Choosing Whom to Emulate

“It was because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza that Yerushalayim was destroyed.”

A question that is often asked about this Chazal is why Kamtza is blamed for this devastating event, one that we continue to mourn to this day. After all, it was Bar Kamtza, infuriated by the way he was humiliated, who went to Caesar, setting in motion a chain of events that culminated in the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

But what wrong was committed by Kamtza, the friend of the host who was supposed to be invited and who unfortunately had a name similar to that of the host’s bitter enemy?

The Klausenburger Rebbe, zy”a, explains that Kamzta erred grievously in his choice of a friend. With his inexplicably malicious insistence on throwing out an enemy who had agreed to pay for the entire feast if he were only permitted to stay, the host revealed himself to be an unusually cruel person. Because he formed a friendship with such a despicable individual, Kamtza is mentioned in Chazal alongside Bar Kamtza.

A similar explanation says that Kamtza was guilty because he failed to influence his friend to refrain from engaging in a bitter dispute with Bar Kamtza in the first place. Because he didn’t protest and rebuke his friend, Kamzta too is blamed.

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A parable is told of an ignorant Jewish villager who had never conducted a proper Seder. One year he decided to move to the city and conduct a Seder like all his fellow Jews. When he returned from shul, he stood at the table wondering what he was supposed to do and say. His wife, too, had no inkling of what came next.

The villager was too embarrassed to ask others, for he feared they would mock his ignorance. So he decided to send his wife to the nearest neighbor.

“Tell them that you wish to borrow candles. While you are there, look around carefully and see what they are doing, and we will do the same.”

The wife dutifully went to the neighbor’s home, and a child opened the door. She looked in and found that she had come upon a scene of severe family strife. The neighbor had apparently lost control of himself and was hitting a member of his family. The villager’s wife quickly apologized and returned home.

“So what did you see?” her husband asked her.

In her great ignorance, she assumed that what she had witnessed was the “proper” way to run a Seder, so she remained silent.

“Did you see something?” he pressed her.

She nodded fearfully.

“What did you see?” he demanded.

She remained silent.

Her refusal to answer his question infuriated the villager, and he went into a rage. Seeing that her husband, too, was about to become violent, she cried out, “If you did know how to lead a Seder, why did you send me to the neighbor?”

We all are greatly influenced by peer pressure, by what our neighbors and friends are doing. So much depends on whom we choose to emulate!

Harav Chanoch Henoch, zy”a, the Rebbe of Alexander, used this parable to explain a concept alluded to in Rachem, the third brachah of Birkas Hamazon. We begin by beseeching Hakadosh Baruch Hu to have mercy on Klal Yisrael, on Yerushalayim, on Malchus Beis Dovid and on the Beis Hamikdash. Then we ask Hashem to “nourish us, sustain us, support us, relieve us” and “grant us speedy relief from all our troubles.”

The question is an obvious one: Didn’t we just beg for the Geulah and binyan Beis Hamikdash? Isn’t that the ultimate relief from all our troubles?

The Alexander Rebbe teaches that we plead for the Geulah, but what do we really understand about such lofty ideals? We look around us and see only physical blows and suffering. We suffer so much that we have come to think that this is the way of the world.

Therefore, we ask Hashem first to grant us “speedy relief from all our troubles,” so that when the true Geulah and the building of the Beis Hamikdash take place, we will be able to differentiate and understand. For the Geulah Sheleimah will be a much loftier experience than mere redemption from physical suffering. It will be a time of true spiritual bliss, of bonding and cleaving to our Creator.

May we merit it speedily in our day!