The Story of Kamsa & Bar Kamsa
By Larry Kass
The Talmud explains the causes of the destruction of the Temple and our
expulsion into the Diaspora. It is the story of Kamsa and
Because of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa, two different people, Jerusalem
was destroyed. There was a man who was very good friends with
Kamsa and did not get along with another person with a similar
name, Bar Kamsa. One time this man made a large banquet and told
his servant to invite his friend Kamsa. The servant made a mistake
and invited Bar Kamsa.
When the man came to his banquet, he was surprised to see Bar
Kamsa sitting there. Not wanting to see his enemy benefiting from
his meal, he ordered him to leave. Bar Kamsa, not wanting to be
embarrassed, offered to pay for his portion of food. The man refused
to accept compensation, and ordered Bar Kamsa to leave.
Bar Kamsa, still not wanting to be embarrassed, offered to pay
for half of the expenses of the large banquet. Still the man refused
and ordered Bar Kamsa to leave. Finally, Bar Kamsa offered to
pay for the entire banquet. In anger, the man grabbed Bar Kamsa
with his own hands and physically ejected Bar Kamsa from the banquet.
Bar Kamsa said that since there were many Rabbis at the meal and
none of them objected to the outrageous behavior on the part of
the host, it must be that the Rabbis agreed with this embarrassing
episode. Bar Kamsa decided to fix them all. He went to speak with
the Caesar (the king of Rome) and told him that the Jews are planning
a rebellion against the Romans.
The Roman Caesar did not believe it. Bar Kamsa told him to send
a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem and see if the Jews will
bring it on to the Altar. The Caesar agreed and sent an animal.
On the way to Jerusalem, Bar Kamsa inflicted a minor wound into
the lip (or eye) of the animal, so small that by almost all standards
it would not be considered a blemish.
When the animal arrived in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Rabbis
examined the animal and saw the tiny blemish. They didn't know
what to do. Although according to Jewish law it was forbidden
to offer such an animal on the Altar, they reasoned that not to
offer it for such a minor reason could endanger themselves and
cause a breach with the Caesar. Therefore they wanted to have
the animal brought up upon the Altar. Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus
however disagreed fearing that people will learn from this that
animals with blemishes may be brought upon the Altar.
The Rabbis then thought to have Bar Kamsa killed in order that
word not be brought back to the Caesar. Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus
again disagreed, fearing that people may think that one who brings
an animal with a blemish can be put to death.
Rabbi Yochanan at this point taught that due to the extreme piety
of Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus, the Temple was destroyed, the Sanctuary
burnt in flames and we were exiled from our land.
This is one of the stories in the Talmud, the rest is history.
What we need to do is to analyze this story to understand what
the sages were trying to convey in the story.
First, we can note that the combined incidences of the host of
the banquet and Bar Kamsa showed a tremendous lack of feelings
for the welfare of another. From this we learn the importance
of putting other peoples feelings ahead of our desires. Still,
this does not compare to the lack of action on the part of the
assembled Rabbis at the banquet, who, had they protested the lack
of consideration, could have averted a national tragedy. We learn
from this the awesome responsibilities of those people who are
in positions of leadership and influence. Yet even more so, is
the blame on the shoulders of Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus, because
of his great piety, not only was the Temple and Jerusalem destroyed,
but we were exiled through out the nations. Rabbi Zacharia ben
Avkolus who was the leader and most influential man in his generation
should have seen the results of his actions. National leaders
must know when to stand firm and when and how to bend, to avoid
disastrous results. He must be able to put his own personal agenda
and feelings aside and make proper decisions.
May we all learn from this chilling episode in our Jewish History,
that our behavior is of extreme importance. May we, through the
good will and cheerful help that we are able to give to another
fellow Jew, see the rebuilding of the Temple swiftly in our days.
from the July 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine