This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort. It is the Shabbat immediately following Tisha B’Av. The Haftarah is meant as comfort from the events that happened on that day. The Torah portion has two major parts, both of which are known to many. The first is the events of the recitation of the Ten commandments, including a repetition which is curiously not identical to the one in Exodus 20. the second part is the the Shema.
The days after Tisha B’Av mark the beginning of the season of repentance. about a month and a half from now is the pinnacle in the High Holidays. Shabbat Nachamu seems to mark the beginning of this season by reminding us of the most basic concepts. One concept is also why the second temple was destroyed. The Talmud tells the story:
The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way. A certain man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out. Said the other: Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink. He said, I won’t. Then let me give you half the cost of the party. No, said the other. Then let me pay for the whole party. He still said, No, and he took him by the hand and put him out. Said the other, Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against then, to the Government.[Gittin 55b-56ab]
Bar Kamza in revenge tells the Romans to give a sacrifice in the temple, but makes a very tiny defect in the cow they offer. Some of the rabbis want to go on with the sacrifice, some stringent, fundamentalist others refuse to do so. When the cow is not sacrificed, the Romans consider this an act of sedition, and destroy Jerusalem.
While Bar Kamza’s actions are not beyond reproach, the later Talmudic rabbis are clear of who was in the wrong in this incident:
It has been taught: Note from this incident how serious a thing it is to put a man to shame, for God espoused the cause of Bar Kamza and destroyed His House and burnt His Temple.[Gittin 57a]
The second temple fell because someone was thrown out of a party, and no one stood to champion bar Kamza. We read in this week’s portion, as part of the Ten commandments:
18. Nor shall you desire your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you covet your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is your neighbor’s.[Deuteronomy 5]
When it comes to parties, it often hurts to not be invited, or in Bar Kamza’s case, to be an unintentional party crasher and thrown out. When we do not have something of our own is when we most often will covet what another has. there is this idea of “inside” and “outside.” And being “inside” can be coveting as much as wanting that large screen TV your neighbor has, if not more so. Yet we also read this week:
5. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart; 7. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6]
We are told we love God in three ways, with “heart” better translated as our conscious mind and emotions, our “soul” which is our spiritual connection to God, and with our might, our physical action. All our minds, souls and strength need to be directed toward god everywhere, all the time. When we read, And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes, this is not just about wearing tefillin, but we must take it metaphorically as well. In the Shema service we also read,
39. And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, which incline you to go astray;[NUmbers 15?]
So too with tefillin — they are there to remind us, even when we are not wearing them to use our eyes to see mitzvot, and our hands to do mitzvot. It’s not wearing them that is as important as remembering to see and do these words. Mezuzot may also provide a similar meaning that when we come inside and when we got out to remember what we are supposed to do.
In Genesis, that we are told we are created in the Image of God. And the rabbis were clear: Since the first man was in the image of God, then we all are. The rabbis take another of the ten commandments very seriously: You shall not kill.In Sanhderin 37a, they present the idea that killing one man is like killing a whole universe, both in the potential of the children that person might have and because they too are a unique image of God, It does not take a great leap to realize that in order to Love God with all our heart, soul and might, it requires us to have every face to face encounter as though it is an encounter with God.
Why Bar Kamza and the host of the party might have been enemies, they also could have reconciled at the party, and left as friends. The host could have been more gracious of course. And the sages at the party never intervene. They might have seen the holiness within each other, and done something about it. Yet, the host of the party throws out Bar Kamza. Bar Kmaza in revenge plays off rabbis more interested in the rules than in people. As a result, the temple is destroyed.
I remember how devastated I feel when I wasn’t invited to a party. One of the most devastating was one where all my friends were there, including an ex-girlfriend. Since she was there, I wasn’t invited or welcome, even though I lived next store to where the party was. I remember that as a very sad night, hearing the party through the thin walls of the apartment. I think of many times I have felt like that night and how bad it was. While some were afraid of how my ex and I would react to each other in the same room, it meant I was excluded. I felt second class, much like I expect Bar Kamza felt. But the party may not just be a party, but something more. The struggle among some for gay marriage rights is an example of bar Kamza once again. Some are invited to the party, some not. Some at the party might believe inviting Bar Kamza cheapens the party, or make it worse. Some, who find the party boring or falling apart might enjoy the refreshing changes of new guests. Th rhetoric of gay marriage is similar. Some say it will diminish the institution of marriage, others that the institution is already in shambles, and this might strengthen the ideas of commitment and love of two people. Of course some just want to get married to the person they love.
The are many of these cases where people are not invited to the party, and I think it’s more important for one think up their own conclusions to this than for me to tell you what to do. So some questions to consider, to invite you to my party of wondering about all this:
- When have you not been invited to the party?
- When have you not invited someone to the party?
- How many people in the story of bar Kmaza were not thinking of facing God in their everyday encounters?
- Is there everyday encounters with God?
- How do we fix what we have broken in terms of not inviting to the party, both when we are not invited and when we do not invite?