Tisha B'Av 5779 Bar Kamtza:The Rest Of The Story

תני תנא קמיה דרב נחמן בר יצחק כל המלבין פני חבירו ברבים כאילו שופך דמים א"ל שפיר קא אמרת דחזינא ליה דאזיל סומקא ואתי חוורא אמר ליה אביי לרב דימי במערבא במאי זהירי א"ל באחוורי אפי

The Gemara relates that the tanna who recited mishnayot and baraitot in the study hall taught a baraita before Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak: Anyone who humiliates another in public, it is as though he were spilling blood. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said to him: You have spoken well, as we see that after the humiliated person blushes, the red leaves his face and pallor comes in its place, which is tantamount to spilling his blood. Abaye said to Rav Dimi: In the West, i.e., Eretz Yisrael, with regard to what mitzva are they particularly vigilant? Rav Dimi said to him: They are vigilant in refraining from humiliating others

(יב) רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן שַׁמּוּעַ אוֹמֵר, יְהִי כְבוֹד תַּלְמִידְךָ חָבִיב עָלֶיךָ כְּשֶׁלְּךָ, וּכְבוֹד חֲבֵרְךָ כְּמוֹרָא רַבְּךָ, וּמוֹרָא רַבְּךָ כְּמוֹרָא שָׁמָיִם:

(12) Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua said: let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own, and the honor of your colleague as the reverence for your teacher, and the reverence for your teacher as the reverence of heaven.

(ה) רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ אוֹמֵר, הַלּוֹמֵד תּוֹרָה עַל מְנָת לְלַמֵּד, מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד. וְהַלּוֹמֵד עַל מְנָת לַעֲשׂוֹת, מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת. רַבִּי צָדוֹק אוֹמֵר, אַל תַּעֲשֵׂם עֲטָרָה לְהִתְגַּדֵּל בָּהֶם, וְלֹא קַרְדֹּם לַחְפֹּר בָּהֶם. וְכָךְ הָיָה הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, וּדְאִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בְּתָגָא, חָלָף. הָא לָמַדְתָּ, כָּל הַנֶּהֱנֶה מִדִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, נוֹטֵל חַיָּיו מִן הָעוֹלָם:

(5) Rabbi Ishmael his son said: He who learns in order to teach, it is granted to him to study and to teach; But he who learns in order to practice, it is granted to him to learn and to teach and to practice. Rabbi Zadok said: do not make them a crown for self-exaltation, nor a spade with which to dig. So to Hillel used to say, “And he that puts the crown to his own use shall perish.” Thus you have learned, anyone who derives worldly benefit from the words of the Torah, removes his life from the world.

(ג) רבי צדוק אומר אל תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהם ולא קרדום. שלא תעשה דברי תורה כעטרה להתגדל ולהתכבד בהם בעולם הזה שזהו הנאת הכבוד. זולת אם יכוין לכבוד התורה כי (כעושין) [כשעושין] לו כבוד התורה מתכבדת בזה. ואם כונת החכם לכבוד התורה ולא לכבודו בלבב שלם מותר:

(3) Rabbi Tzadok says: Do not make it [the Torah] into a crown with which to aggrandize yourself, and not into a spade: That he not make his words of Torah like a spade to aggrandize himself and be honored on their account in this world, as that is benefit from honor. The exception is if he has the intention that if be for the Torah's honor. (Like they show) [As when they show] him honor, the Torah is honored by it. And if the whole-hearted intention of the sage is for the honor of the Torah - and not for his honor - it is permitted.

Who wronged whom at the feast? What might have been going on behind the scenes?

What might the significance be that the blemish on the sacrifice was on the lip and/or eye?

What do you think Rabbi Zekharya's concern was regarding the sacrifice? Is the reason he gave realistic?

In what ways does this story speak to our own lives and spirituality today?

My Take

Rereading the Bar Kamtza story closely, I see an explicit yet concealed teaching. It seems Rabbi Zekharya was one of the Sages in attendance as Bar Kamtza was humiliated publicly. He saw it happen but said nothing to stop Bar Kamtza's disgrace. R' Zekharya's decision not to allow the Roman sacrifice 'because people will think blemished sacrifices are acceptable' seems to me to be not about potential damage to the sacrificial system or Israel's/God's honor (the people were just as likely—if not more likely—to think this was an exception for Roman/non-Jewish sacrifices than permissiveness for Jewish ones) but about what people would think of him as a rabbi/posek for making the ruling allowing it. His 'humility' was used to defend his own reputation instead of the community's. Just as he was willing to see with his eyes yet say nothing with his lips to defend Bar Kamtza, so too with the community. It was only his personal honor, his adorning of himself with Torah 'humility' that was worthy of his defense...leading to the destruction of the very system he used to support his behavior.