Tisha B'Av and Tunnel Vision

The "prat" is still exiled from the "klal".

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Rabbi Yochanan said: What is an example of the verse (Proverbs 28,14): "Fortunate is the man who always fears and the stubborn man will come to harm"? Because of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed....

There was a man whose friend was Kamtza and whose enemy was Bar-Kamtza. He made a party, sending an
One needs to understand the relation of the individual to the nation.
invitation to Kamtza. By mistake, the invitation went to Bar-Kamtza. When Bar-Kamtza showed up at the party, the host threw him out, to Bar-Kamtza's great embarrassment.

Bar-Kamtza went to Rome and informed the Emperor that the Jews were starting a revolution. As proof, Bar-Kamtza told the Emperor that he should send an offering to the Temple and if the Jews refused to bring it to the altar, then that would prove that they are rebelling.

Secretly, Bar-Kamtza pierced a hole in the animal's lip, which would invalidate it as an offering, per Jewish Law. The rabbis wanted to offer the animal anyway, for the sake of peace with Rome, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said: "People will get the idea that it is allowed to bring a blemished animal to the altar."

The rabbis considered killing Bar-Kamtza, so that he could not return to Rome and spread his slander that the Jews were rebelling. Rabbi Zechariah objected on the grounds that people would think the law says that whoever brings a blemished sacrifice is liable to the death penalty (which is untrue).

Rabbi Yochanan said: "The tolerance of Rabbi Zechariah destroyed our House, burnt our Temple and exiled us from our Land." (Talmud, Gittin 55b-56a)

The Talmud goes on to tell of the terrible famine caused by the three-year siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army:

Martha the daughter of Boethus was the richest woman in Yerushalayim.

She told her agent: "Go buy me fine flour."

He went to the market, found none for sale, and returned to her, saying: "There is no fine flour; there is white bread."

Martha said: "Go get me that."

By the time he got back to the market, that was sold, but there was coarse bread. She told him: "So get me coarse bread."

By the time he went, that was sold out, and only barley flour was left. He returned to her and she told him to buy her the barley flour. By the time he returned, even that was sold. Martha died of starvation and was mourned by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

To understand these stories of the Churban (the destruction of the Temple) and the subsequent exile, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes that one needs to understand the relation of the individual to the nation, of prat to klal, and how the relationship has been perverted by 1,900 years of exile. The very prat is now exiled from the klal, and they are now "separated and sometimes even stand in contradiction" (Ein Aya, Shabbat, page 39, as explained by Rabbi Tvi Tau in Le'Emunat Iteinu, vol.8, pages 33-37).

The presence of the Godly Light, the Shechina, shining in its full strength during Temple times, gave vigor to the individual's soul, to an extent greater than any intellectual achievement can provide nowadays. In the collective holiness of the nation, the prat found its closeness to the Almighty. From this Divine Light (Rabbi Kook's famous Orot), the individual Jew drew inspiration and power to surge forward in Divine service, more than any mention of reward in an Afterlife could ever provide. There was no need for particularistic considerations of "mine, yours", of Afterlife, for the Divine Light raised everyone above all individual borders and differences which divide between the different aspects of life, leaving no difference between this world and the next.

Only with the Churban, as God removed His presence from the life of the klal, did prat-ism raise its head, and expressions of watching out for the spiritual self and its reward were heard. During Temple times, this idea of reward and individual Afterlife were not recognizable in the presence of the great Light of the Jewish Idea of God, as a candle's light is not discernible in the presence of a large torch.

Rabbi Kook's idea has many facets. Firstly, as Rabbi Matis Weinberg explains, we have lost the forest for the trees. Take Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas. The man is right, people might learn the wrong lessons if the blemished sacrifice is brought or if Bar-Kamtza is killed. But if Bar-Kamtza is allowed to live, then he would bring the full wrath of Rome down on the nation and there would be no Temple, no sacrifices and no need to worry about blemishes (which is exactly what happened, as the other rabbis predicted). Rabbi Zechariah was lost in details (prat); his lack of perspective left him no way to judge which details were the important ones. He was thus paralyzed into inaction. And the result was catastrophic: having lost sight of the klal, he caused the loss of klal - nation and Temple - just as Rabbi Yochanan said.

One could say the same of Martha's silly servant. Couldn't he see? Didn't he understand that if he didn't buy something, he would shortly have no mistress to return to? But lost in the detail of her command, he too lost the "overall" perspective; i.e., the perspective of the klal. He lost the chazon, the "vision" of the klal, which is the hallmark of Jeremiah (hence, Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av). And so Martha too met her end.

Where does this leave us this Tisha B'Av? Consider:

In last week's Jerusalem Post, former MK Professor Naomi Chazan reduces our war with the Arabs over the Land of Israel to a consideration of human rights. Of course, human rights are important. But in the great picture of the survival of the Jewish nation, are human rights an overall factor, trumping all else? Martha's servant that she is, Naomi Chazan has no chazon: she can't see that if she grants full rights to our enemies, we will have no Jewish State. She may have no vision of a Jewish state, but human rights and equality assume for Chazan an overarching importance above even existence. (Even the mother of democracies, the US, has limited human rights during wartime, from the Sedition Act of 1798 through Homeland Security post-9/11.)

What of rioting Hareidim protesting against the Carta parking lot being open of Shabbat? True, Shabbat is a very important prat, Halacha and a Jewish institution. But thank Heavens that Rabbi Pappenheim noted in this week's Mishpacha magazine that no one who got hit by a rock while driving on Shabbat on Bar Ilan St. will ever become a Baal Teshuva (penitent). And is not the ultimate goal to be a nation of Jews who care about their Judaism? Again, the forest has been lost amongst the trees.
Is not the ultimate goal to be a nation of Jews who care about their Judaism?

I could only explain the behavior of Martha's silly, deadly agent if the man, subservient to Jerusalem's richest lady, could not imagine disobeying her orders. And, oy vey, have we seen his type of tunnel vision in our day. People who couldn't imagine refusing orders, no matter how clear the result of following them was going to be. Soldiers by the thousands ordered by "superior" commanders and politicians who should have seen that they weren't just impoverishing 9,000 Israeli Jews in Gush Katif; not just destroying civilian lives, livelihoods, homes, synagogues, etc., but that they were aiding and abetting a terrorist rabble that would increase attacks on the rest of the state.

Vision only for the prat? Many leftists to this day insist that there is some difference between this Jew and that Jew, between "settler" and "Green-Line real Israeli". And what has this sinat chinam, this lashon hara accomplished? Nothing but churban (destruction) and a disappearing Green Line, with buses bombed and Kassams landing indiscriminately on both sides of it.

The aforementioned section of the Gemara ends with an admonition to mourn for Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av, for those who mourn our sorry state of affairs will also merit to (Gittin 57a, quoting Isaiah 66,10) simchu et Yerushalayim - "Be happy with Jerusalem and rejoice with her all those who love her; be elated with her all those who mourn for her."