Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The people of a particular small town in Poland were all talmidei chachamim, yet very stingy. They rarely invited strangers for Shabbos and many a time a poor person was left standing in shul on an erev Shabbos with no one willing to take him home.

The Oheiv Yisrael of Apt heard about this, and, perturbed, decided to pay this town a visit. The people of the town were honored to have him as their guest for Shabbos. Before Mussaf, he arose and delivered the following drasha:


“I understood that all of you are talmidei chachamim, educated people. Thus, let us discuss the story narrated in the Gemara (Gittin 55b), the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, who, the Talmud says, are responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem. A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, ‘Go invite Kamtza.’ However, the servant mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamtza.

“When the host saw his enemy, Bar Kamtza, he ordered him out of the hall.

“The man was embarrassed and said, ‘Since I am here, let me stay and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.’ The host refused. ‘Then let me give you half the cost of this feast,’ Bar Kamtza said. Again he was refused. ‘I’ll pay you for the entire party,’ he finally said.

“The host took him by the hand and led him out. Bar Kamtza was angry and said, ‘Since the rabbanim were present and they said nothing, I assume they all agreed with him. I will go and inform on them to the government.’ He then complained to the emperor that the Jews were rebelling against him. When the emperor asked how he could tell, he was advised to send them a calf and see whether they would offer it as a korban. While on the way, Bar Kamtza made a blemish on the animal in a spot that would not render it unfit to the Romans, but according to halacha would keep it from being brought as a korban. The animal was rejected in the Beis HaMikdash, the emperor sent his army against Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and exiled the people.”


The Explanation

“Now let us understand this story,” continued the Apta Rav. “Because of a quarrel between two people, who up until now were unknown to us, the Holy Temple was destroyed and all the people were exiled. Should we blame an entire nation for the sins of two people?

“This story, however, is used as an allegory to describe the behavior of the people in that time. Kamtza represents the rich as the Gemara (Menachos 86a) calls the rich by that name. ‘Bar’ in Aramaic means outside. Bar Kamtza represents the poor who usually stood outside the rich man’s home asking for alms. The story describes the customs of people who made weddings or simchas and only invited the rich. When a poor person would be invited by mistake, the host would become angry and order him out. A poor person once offered to pay the cost of the meal by offering Torah in place of money, for the Torah is compared to the meat, bread and wine of the meal (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, end of chapter 4; also Responsa on Rama, chapter 7).

“When the host threw him out in front of all the rabbanim, who kept quiet and apparently approved of his actions, the poor man then complained to the King of Kings, G-d.

‘“Lord of the Universe!’ he cried, ‘the Jews have revolted against your Torah. If you need proof, send them a sacrifice – a poor person – and see for yourself. For today a poor person represents a sacrifice, as our Sages tell us in Gemara (Chagiga 27a): When the Holy Temple was in existence, it was the altar which forgave the sins of the person; today it is his table which forgives his sins.’ (Rashi explains ‘table’ to mean guests – hachnasas orchim.)

“When the sacrifice, the poor person, comes to their towns, they begin to find a blemish in him, even before he comes to their homes to eat. Some find fault in his lips – that he doesn’t pray properly – while others find fault in his eyes – that he looks like a faker. This way they manage to find excuses not to accept him into their homes.

“Therefore,” concluded the Apta Rav, “because of this sin of not inviting poor guests to their homes Jerusalem was destroyed. Thus did the Navi Yechezkel exclaim (16:49): ‘Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread and luxury was in her and in her daughters; yet they neither strengthened the hand of the poor and needy (refused them food and loving)… therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

The people of the town, realizing that the Rav was referring to them, felt ashamed of their behavior and vowed to mend their ways.