9 B’AV Stories – 5780 – By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann

The Mishna Taanis [4:6] recounts 5 calamities that occurred on Tisha Beav: 1/ The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the “Promised Land”. For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land.[4] The midrash quotes God as saying about this event, “You cried before me pointlessly, I will fix for you [this day as a day of] crying for the generations”,[5] alluding to the future misfortunes which occurred on the same date. 2/ The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE, and the population of the Kingdom of Judah was sent into the Babylonian exile. The Talmud [Taanis 29a] instructs, that the actual destruction of the Temple began on the Ninth of Av, and it continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av. 3/ The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land that continues to this day. 4/ The Romans subsequently crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 500,000 Jewish civilians (according to some: 3 Million) on Tisha Beav, 135 CE. 5/ Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE.

This is the story recounted by the Talmud: A person had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. Once he made a simcha and sent his servant to invite his friend Kamtza. The servant mistakenly invited his enemy Bar Kamtza. When the host realized Bar Kamtza was at the party, he fumed, “You are my enemy; why did you come to spoil my simcha? Get out!” Bar Kamtza replied: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.” The host refused, so Bar Kamtza to avoid public shame offered to pay half the cost of the party. The host still refused to wich Bar Kamtza retorked, I will pay the expenses of the entire party. Still the host refused, took him by the hand and threw him out. Bar Kamtza raged, since the Rabbis were there and did not even attempt to stop him, it shows they agreed with him. I will snitch on them to the government.” He went and told the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.” The Emperor asked, “How do I know it is true?” Bar Kamtza replied, “Send them an offering, and see whether they will offer it on the Altar.” The Emperor sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip making it unfit for the Altar. The rabbis were inclined to offer it to prevent offending the government. But Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas told them: “People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.” They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and snitch back, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas told them, “Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals deserving to be put to death?” Rabbi Yochanan thereupon remarked: “Because of the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves are exiled from our land.” The emperor dispatched Nero the Caesar against the Jews. On his way he decided to test his luck, he shot an arrow towards the east, and it fell towards Jerusalem. He then shot one towards the west, again it turned towards Jerusalem. The same result happened when he shot his arrows towards the North and the South. It intrigued him seriously. He then asked a boy: “Repeat to me the verse you have learnt today.” The child quoted: “And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel” (Ezekiel 25:14). Nero got scared and thought Hashem wanted him to carry the blame for destroying Jerusalem and then be punished, he immediately went to convert. Rabbi Meir is one of his descendants. The Emperor then dispatched the Vespasian Caesar who besieged Jerusalem for three years There were in Jerusalem three men of great wealth: Nakdimon ben Gurion, Ben Kalba Savua, and Ben Tzitzit Hakeseth. Nakdimon ben Gurion was so called because the sun continued shining for his sake. Ben Kalba Savua was so called because one would go into his house hungry as a dog (kalba) and come out full and satiated (savua). Ben Tzitzit Hakeseth was so called because his fringes (tzitzit) used to trail on cushions (keseth). Others say he derived the name from the fact that his seat (kisei) was among those of the nobility of Rome. One of these three rich men said, “I will provide to the people of Jerusalem wheat and barley.” The second said, “I will provide them wine, oil and salt.” The third said, “I will provide them wood.” They had enough to sustain the entire population for 21 years. However, the biryonei (young Zealot bands) were running the city and all they wanted was to wage war. The rabbis told them: “Let us go out and make peace with the Romans.” The Zealots would not agree and in return asked, “Let us go out and fight them.” The rabbis said: “You will not succeed.” The Zealots then rose up and burnt the warehouses where the food was stored engendering a severe famine that lead to the fall of Jerusalem.

Abba Sikra, the head of the Zealots in Jerusalem, was the nephew of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Rabban Yochanan messaged him to Come to visit me privately. Upon his arrival, his uncle asked him “How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation?” He replied: “What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me too.” Rabban Yochanan said, “Devise some plan for me to escape the city. Perhaps I shall be able to bring a small salvation.” Abba Sikra told him: “Pretend to be ill and ask the sages to visit you as if you were about to pass away. Then your students should announce your passing. They only should carry your bier so no one should notice that it is light, since it is known that a living being is lighter than a corpse. Finally put something foul-smelling next to you so the sentinels would think it is from the decaying corpse.” They did so, Rabbi Eliezer Rabbi and Joshua carried the bier of their master to the city gates. The zealots wanted to pierce the corpse with a lance. One of the disciples said to them, “Shall the Romans say, ‘They have murdered their master’?” The zealots backed off and opened the gates. When Rabban Yochanan reached the Roman camp and greeted Vespasian: “Peace to you, O king; peace to you, O king.” Vespasian replied: “Your life is forfeited on two counts: one, because I am not a king and you call me king; and again, if I am a king, why have you not come to me earlier?” Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai replied: “As for your saying that you are not a king, in truth you are a king, as if you were not a king, Jerusalem would fall in your hand, as it is written, ‘And Lebanon (a reference to the Holy Temple) shall fall by a mighty one.’ . . . As for your question why, if you are a king, I did not come earlier, the answer is that the biryoni among us did not let me.” Vespasian replied with a fiddle: “If there is a snake inside a honey jar, would one not break the jar to get rid of the serpent?” Rabban Yochanan had no answer prompting Rabbi Akiva to apply to him the verse, “[Hashem] turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish.” He should have retorted: We take tongs to grip the snake and save the jar. At this point, a messenger arrived from Rome with a message to Vespasian: “Arise, for the emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have decided to make you Emperor.” Vespasian had just finished putting on one boot. But after hearing the message he tried putting on the second but could not. He then tried to remove the first, but it would not come off. He said, “What is the meaning of this?” Rabban Yochanan said to him: “Do not worry: the good news has done it, as it is written, ‘Good tidings fatten the bones.’ What is the remedy? Let someone whom you dislike pass before you, as it says, “A broken spirit dries up the bones.’” He did so, and the boot went on. Vespasian seeing how wise Rabbi Yoachanan was, told him, I wish you had come to me earlier. Anyway, I am returning to Rome and will send a general in my stead. Make a request and I will grant it.” Rabban Yochanan requested: “Give me Yavneh and its sages, the family of Rabban Gamliel, and physicians to heal Rabbi Tzadok.” His request was granted! Rabbi Akiva, applied again to him the verse, “[Hashem] turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish.” He ought to have requested: “Let the Jews off this time.” Rabban Yochanan, however, thought that so much Vespasian would not grant and would then lose the opportunity to even save the few sages.

By Rabbi Fridmann * [email protected] * 305.985.3461

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