Do you drive? I don’t, at least not in the sense that implies actually getting a vehicle to move from one place to another one. I am really an expert backseat driver. I usually keep my observations to myself (why don’t you just pass him? Aren’t you going too fast (or too slow)) because over the years I have not always been thanked as profusely or as eloquently as I would liked for my unceasing flow of helpful comments and constructive criticism.
Imagine being on a highway with next to no traffic. No lights. No hassles. No ambiguous signs. Perfect weather. In case you didn’t notice.
Life isn’t like that.
It was never meant to be an easy ride. It’s meant to be challenging and full of unexpected curves. Your sense of entitlement can make this seem unfair at best and nihilistic at worst. Our history over the last 2,000 years was predicted in the Chumash. It may not be an easy ride, but there is nothing unexpected about it. Sometimes the ride is so rocky that it feels unbearable. Sometimes the drivers you encounter seem to be superman ‘wannabees’ . There are outside events and people you meet on the way who leave you reeling.
The Talmud tells a story about a man whose path took him to oblivion. What started as a mere pot hole, ended up in a catastrophe that still touches your life and mine. His name was Kamtza, which literally means the man who grasped things in his fist; the man who couldn’t or didn’t want to let go. Every year at this time I find myself focused (still again) on the Kamtza Bar Kamtza story. In short, a man, Kamtza, received an invitation meant for someone else with an almost identical name, Bar-Kamtza. The result was his arriving as an unwanted guest at a party held by his enemy. He was thrown out, and in revenge (against his host, but even more against the silence of people who should have prevented his public humiliation) he engineered a plot. He tried to convince the authorities to persecute the Jews (yes, his own people) by telling them that the Jews are rebelling. To prove his accusation, he suggested that a Roman acquaintance bring a sacrifice to the Holy Temple. When he agreed, Kamtza secretly entered the pen where the animal was held, and either slit its lip or its eye, thus invalidating it as an offering. It was rejected, the Romans began their war against us, and the result is the exile that is still our reality.
Many of you have heard this innumerable times before, and even for those of you who are hearing it the first time, there are a number of questions you can ask. The first and most significant one is what does this have to do with me and my life. I don’t throw people out of my home (do you invite them in? hmmmm). I don’t plot against the entire Jewish people. There are various insights, and I want to share one with you.
At the end of his classical ‘Moreh Nevuchim’ (Guide to the Perplexed), Rambam opens the door to understanding the many anthropomorphisms that the Torah uses. What do we mean when we say, “Hashem’s eye” or His “Outstretched arm”? His approach is to analyze the way we use these organs to grasp the subtle messages hidden deep within the metaphor. What exactly is an eye’s function? The easiest answer is “to see”, but move inward. What is sight for? It brings the outer world into your inner world for you to interpret and to determine what your response should be. This happens so fast that you don’t even notice it happening. When you speak about Hashem’s eye, you are talking about His providence, and His ability to observe every atom and the entire cosmos simultaneously, and to form responses immediately. We humans are made in G-d’s image. We can also learn to “see” what reality really is. When you as a human have what the sages would call a “good eye” it means that you integrate reality with spiritual depth in how you look at the other person. You get in touch with your intent to see things positively and to respond from there. According to those who maintain that the injury that Kamtza made to the animal involved the eye; his message has a specific meaning. The sacrifices are called ‘korbanot’, which comes from the word karov, which means “near”. You can only talk about bringing something near, if it is distant. Nothing is further from your higher self than your base instincts, your animal soul. Your animal soul ‘”sees” things superficially. Having an ayin tovah, a ‘good eye’ means looking beyond the surface, and seeing what is good in the other person you are observing. The next step inevitably is reflected by the way you speak about them. Your words are “you”, the fruit of your thoughts.
Kamtza’s next choice was tragic. His response to insult was to obsess about it. “You don’t really see me. You don’t speak well of me. You treat me as though I have no significance.” His hatred towards those who slighted him was so great that he no longer cared about what the effect of his decision to take revenge would be. He doomed an entire people to appease his egocentric need for validation, acknowledgment and appreciation. The fact that he was right is completely irrelevant. His plot was the trigger for the Roman oppression, the subsequent destruction of the Holy Temple, the exile in which we suffered innumerable deaths, maiming’s, enslavements, and far more.
The moral of the story is :
Don’t hate. - Even when you are right.
Even if “they” should have known better. Just don’t hate.
Try the opposite. Try to like people.
Even when they are wrong. Even when they are ignorant.
Just like them because they are part of the people that G-d chose.
Maybe next year the story will be old hat, boring and irrelevant.