" Due to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza the temple was destroyed " ( Gittin 55b).
So begins the famous Talmudic story epitomizing the sinat chinam that was rampant during Temple times. The outline of the story is well known; instead of inviting his master's friend Kamtza to a prestigious ball, a servant mistakenly invites Bar Kamtza, his master's sworn enemy. The wealthy host is shocked to see his foe at the party. Determined to utterly humiliate Bar Kamtza, the man ignores his frantic pleas not to embarrass him by ejecting him from the party. Desperate, Bar Kamtza offers to pay the entire cost of the party if only he may stay; but his host literally tosses him out himself. Despite the presence of numerous rabbinic figures, not one attempts to interfere with Bar Kamtza's public humiliation. Bar Kamtza himself, humiliated and furious at the lack of leadership, concocted a plan to convince the Romans that the Jews were rebelling, thus leading to death, destruction and exile.
Even a cursory glance at the Talmudic story shows that there is more than enough blame to go around, starting with the courier, whose innocent mistake (was it carelessness?) led to the whole fiasco. Clearly, the actions of the host were despicable, and the apathy of the rabbis was inexcusable. Rav Yochanan even explicitly blames a particular rabbi, Zecharia ben Avkolus, whose concern about what people might say led the rabbis not to allow an animal the Roman government offered as a sacrifice to be put on the altar, inviting harsh retribution. As is usually the case, there were many opportunities to rectify the wrong before it spiraled out of control. Only the combined mistakes of many can yield such tragic results. This is once again proven true in the recent congressional report on the 9/11 atrocities (incidentally, Tisha B'Av happens to be the ninth day of the eleventh month), which indicate that only the combined blunders and political battles of many allowed this mass destruction.
Yet the Talmud states that it was because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza that the Temple was destroyed. There is no doubt that Bar Kamtza clearly deserves much of the blame. Despite his legitimate grievance, he had no right to act as he did, with vengeful zeal. But what in the world did Kamtza do? He is the one person who seems blameless. He wasn't even at the party and, save for this initial reference, he is nowhere to be found in the story. Why is he equated with Bar- Kamtza?
While many may define hatred as actively seeking to hurt someone, our tradition has a different definition. Doing nothing is equivalent to actual wrongdoing. As the Holocaust most forcefully taught, it is only because so many do so little that so few are able to perpetrate so much harm. Evil can only thrive in an environment where apathy and indifference are rampant. Those who do nothing to halt a wrong are the enablers of sin, and as such, must bear the burden of evil. Kamtza is blameworthy precisely because he did nothing.
It is not by chance that our host is unidentified; he is hahu gavra (there was a man) because the story of Kamtza is not limited by time or place. While most of us do not actively engage in evil, we are prone to follow the example of Kamtza by not actively seeking the destruction of evil. We glibly mind our own business as communal politics and petty personal rivalries threaten our future. "Every generation that does not merit the rebuilding of the Temple is deemed to have destroyed it" (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:1). Unfortunately, sinat chinam , whether active (Bar- Kamtza) or passive (Kamtza), is thriving.
The name Kamtza-a strange name if there ever was one-means to grab, to gather for oneself. Indifference to others begins when we focus on acquiring more for ourselves. And from Kamtza comes Bar Kamtza (literally the son of Kamtza). From passive indifference, active evil is nurtured and grows. It is as Rav Kook, zt"l, taught: only through ahavat chinam , caring for each and every human being, can we end the exile. May the day arrive soon that all will be welcome at our parties as we celebrate the peace that will prevail in a rebuilt Jerusalem .