DAY 766: Thought on Tishah B’av — Zealotry Leads to Destruction

August 5, 2014
By bethmordecai
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DAY 766: Thought on Tishah B’av — Zealotry Leads to Destruction

Dear Hevreh,

Last night, our community gathered with Marlboro Jewish Center, Temple Beth Ahm, and Congregation Beth Ohr for a special communal observance of Tisha B’av. A number of the rabbis, including myself, had an opportunity to teach a little about the holiday prior to readingM’gillat Eikhah. I was particularly fascinated by the teaching of Rabbi Lisa Malik on the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, perhaps the most famous story related to the destruction of the second Temple.

The story, which you can find here, seemed pregnant with such meaning that I took the time today with one of our members to study it in more depth. (By the way, please feel free to drop in during the rest of the day to learn with me in honor of Tisha B’av). One thing that came to the surface in today’s learning is that each of the main characters acted zealously in some manner, and in their zealotry they ignored the people around them whom they should have treated more kindly:

  • The unnamed host of the party, who (through his servant) mistakenly invited his enemy Bar Kamtza, kicked him out of the party despite Bar Kamtza’s entreaties to allow him to stay. The host was more zealous for being angry at Bar Kamtza than for making sure to not embarrass him when he kicked him out of the party


  • Bar Kamtza, who took out his anger at being kicked out against the rabbis (who didn’t lift a finger to stop the host) by reporting them to the Romans. He was more zealous for lashing out at anyone and anything he could than for finding an appropriate way to alleviate his admittedly unjust embarrassment.


  • Rabbi Yochanan ben Avkolus, who refused to sacrifice a blemished animal for the sake of promoting peace with the Roman government. He was more zealous to uphold the letter of the law than for finding a way to keep the peace between the people of Jerusalem and the Roman authorities.

In a world in which zealotry seems to run rampant (especially in the Middle East and Europe), we must remember the lesson from the story above — zealotry leads to destruction. While we should strive for zealousness in crafting correct, guiding principles that give us a firm foundation — as individuals, as a people, and as a community — part of those principles must be putting people first because when we put people first, we will know how to adapt our values, our beliefs, and our principles so that we do no harm to others.

Tzom Kal (Have an easy fast!),

Rabbi Ari Saks

P.S. At 3 pm on Twitter, I will begin my second annual “9 for 9th” — 9 pieces of learning every 9 minutes in honor of the 9th of Av. Check it out here

P.P.S. Tomorrow I will be writing a review of our fabulous Shabbat by the Sea experience this past Friday, so stay tuned!

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Category : Holidays Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Tishah B'av Uncategorized
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