Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.

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The incident of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza played a pivotal role in our exile from Eretz Yisrael, but we have yet to learn the lesson of that shameful tragedy. The very title of the story is puzzling, since the controversy was not between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza but between Bar Kamtza and the anonymous host of the party. Why is Kamtza implicated?

To refresh our memories: A gentleman in Yerushalayim made a party. He had a best friend named Kamtza and an enemy he despised named Bar Kamtza. He sent his servant to invite Kamtza to his party but his servant mistakenly delivered the invitation to his enemy, Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza happily came to the party, only to be ordered to leave.

Mortified, he pleaded to be allowed to stay. He even offered to pay for the cost of the party but his host remained adamant and had him thrown out. So the question remains. Why is Kamtza, the good friend who never even made it to the party, implicated? Why is he named as a central player?

As a best friend, Kamtza had to be aware his friend’s heart was filled with animosity and hatred. It would have been his responsibility to warn his friend not to allow such venom to overtake him. So too the rabbis and other guests at the party should have taken a strong stand and protested. But everyone remained silent. Those same people surely would have protested had they seen their host serving treif, and yet they remained impervious to his reprehensible action, which was a pure manifestation of sinas chinam – a treif manner of behavior.

We should all be familiar with the teaching of Chazal that calls upon us to be among the disciples of Aharon the kohen gadol and seek peace with our fellow man. In Judaism, the pursuit of peace is so critical that we are even permitted to bend the truth for its sake. When there is a conflict between emes and shalom, emes must take a back seat, for there is no greater good than shalom.

But not only have we failed to pursue peace, we often – consciously or unconsciously –incite further discord. It behooves us to ask ourselves whether we are among the disciples of Aharon or of those who attended the infamous party from which Bar Kamtza was ousted.

This question is all the more pertinent to us, for we are the generation that has been destined to live in this trying period of Chevlei Mashiach when, with every passing day, our trials and tribulations intensify.

So how do we go about making peace and fostering it in our families, our communities, and our people? Obviously, every situation is different – but the first step is to unlock hearts sealed by hatred. Experience has taught me that the best way to accomplish this is through Torah study and a story that has the power to reach the heart.

I often tell the story of the Maggid of Kelm. On one occasion he challenged his congregation and asked: If, chas vshalom, Mashiach does not come in our lifetime and we are buried here in Kelm, and then one day we receive an invitation to arise from our graves and go into Kelm for a half hour, what would you do? Where would you go? What would you say?

After telling the story I challenge listeners with those very questions. What would you do? Where would you do? What would you say? Would you check on your business, go shopping, run to the gym? Would you visit your family? And if you did, what would you say?

On 9/11, thousands of people were trapped in the Twin Towers. At a certain point they knew there was a good chance they were about to die. So they phoned as many loved ones as possible. And they all left the same message of three little words. “I love you.” They said “I love you” to parents and spouses and siblings and children and friends.

I allow people to digest that and then I ask, “Should we all not say ‘I love you’ before it is too late? Are the things we fight about – money, kavod, etc. – really worth it? In the end, when all is said and done, it’s shtuyot – nonsense. And the sooner we learn to overlook the faults in others, to banish envy and greed from our relationships, and to always seek darchei shalom, the paths of peace and understanding, the sooner we will heal our families and ourselves.

I learned this lesson long ago from my revered father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l. At the end of World War II we were taken to a DP camp in Switzerland. A group of Polish young men, all of whom had experienced unimaginable torture in Auschwitz, arrived at our camp. They were orphans – angry, bitter, and openly hostile to Judaism and Hashem.

No one wanted anything to do with them, but my father could not bear to see Yiddishe neshamos so affected. He didn’t argue with them or admonish them, nor did he give them mussar. Instead, every night he went to their dormitory and said the Shema with them. Then he would go to each bed and give each boy a berachah and a kiss. Thus, my father converted their anger and bitterness into faith, commitment, and love.

The example of my father has guided me in my efforts to make shalom among families. But those lessons should guide all of us, for they belong to our people.

(To be continued)

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