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Love and Brotherhood in the Temple’s Legacy

Jul 9, 2023

Mount Saul

רַבּ֤וּ ׀ מִשַּׂעֲר֣וֹת רֹאשִׁי֮ שֹׂנְאַ֢י חִ֫נָּ֥ם עָצְמ֣וּ מַ֭צְמִיתַי אֹיְבַ֣י שֶׁ֑קֶר אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־גָ֝זַ֗לְתִּי אָ֣ז אָשִֽׁיב׃

More numerous than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without reason; many are those who would destroy me, my treacherous enemies. Must I restore what I have not stolen?

ra-BU mi-sa-a-ROT ro-SHI so-NE-a-KHEE khee-NAHM o-tse-MU matz-mee-TAI o-y'-VAI she-KER a-SHER lo-ga-ZAL-tee az a-SHEEV

Psalms 69:5

David set the stage for the building of the Temple by purchasing the mountaintop threshing floor that became the location of the Temple that was built by his son, Solomon. As explained in a previous article, the location was chosen because of the brotherly love displayed there.

Love and brotherhood are very important in Judaism and in the worship of God. Through His prophets, God warns over and over again against treating others unfairly, oppressing others, and taking advantage of those who are less fortunate. The prophets even state that God is not interested in our worship of Him if we are not also just, moral and kind (see for example Isaiah chapter 1).

The Sages teach that it was, in fact, baseless hatred that led to the destruction of the Second Temple.

In Psalm 69, David himself warns against this very sin.

David calls out to God, praying for salvation from his enemies. But he uses an expression that has a deeper meaning:

More numerous than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without reason; many are those who would destroy me, my treacherous enemies. Must I restore what I have not stolen? Psalm 69:5

The term, ‘hate without reason’, is son’ei chinam (שֹׂנְאַי חִנָּם) in Hebrew, and the sages blame the destruction of the Temple on sinat chinam (baseless hatred).

The Talmud (Gittin 55b) illustrates how the sin of baseless hatred led to the destruction of the Temple. The Sages tells of a wealthy man who lived in the 1st century CE. For an upcoming party, he sent his servant to deliver an invitation to his friend, a man named Kamsa. However, the servant made a mistake and accidentally invited Bar Kamsa, an enemy of the wealthy man. Upon seeing the hated Bar Kamsa at his party, the host ordered him to leave. Bar Kamsa, attempting to save face, thrice offered to make peace with the host, first offering to pay for the food he ate, then for half of the expenses of the party, and then for the entire party. With each attempt, he is rebuffed by the angry host. Finally, the host forcibly removed Bar Kamsa, in the presence of the communal leaders present who lacked the courage to protest his shameful actions.

Humiliated, Bar Kamsa vowed revenge against the rabbis who did not defend him and instead allowed him to be publicly embarrassed. He visited the Roman emperor who controlled the region and told him that the Jews are inciting to revolt against the Roman Empire. The emperor, unsure of whether to believe Bar Kamsa or not, sent an animal to be sacrificed as a peace offering in the Temple in Jerusalem along with Bar Kamsa. However, on the way, Bar Kamsa purposefully wounded the animal in a way that would disqualify it as a Jewish sacrifice but not as a Roman offering.

Upon seeing the disfigured animal, the rabbis present at the Temple had to make a decision as to how to respond to the delicate situation presented. Some advocated dispensing with the law and offering the animal anyway to avoid war. This plan was vetoed by Rabbi Zecharia son of Avkolos who feared that people would begin to bring blemished animals to the Temple to be sacrificed. They then suggested putting Bar Kamsa to death so that he would not inform the emperor that his offering was denied, but Rabbi Zecharia son of Avkolos again refused, because this is not the mandated penalty for intentionally bringing a disqualified offering to the Temple.

The emperor, incensed at the Jews’ refusal to offer his animal, sent an army to lay siege to Jerusalem, eventually leading to its downfall in the year 70 C.E. Commentaries on the Talmud explain that this story illustrates how internal tensions among the Jewish people, or baseless hatred, exacerbated the external threat from the Roman conquerors.

Indeed, the Temple was essentially a place for all of Israel to come together as brothers in the presence of the Shechina, the divine presence. So baseless hatred between brothers would necessarily strike at the very essence of the Temple in Jerusalem. David hints at that as well:

I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my kin. My zeal for Your house has been my undoing; the reproaches of those who revile You have fallen upon me. Psalm 69:9-10

It is interesting to note that David does not call out for God to bring down His wrath on his brothers. Instead, he prays for personal salvation.

But in the second half of the Psalm, David takes a different approach when praying to God about his “enemies”:

Come near to me and redeem me; free me from my enemies. You know my reproach, my shame, my disgrace; You are aware of all my foes. Psalm 69:19-20

In the case of enemies, David then calls out for Hashem to destroy them:

May their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies. May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see; may their loins collapse continually. Pour out Your wrath on them; may Your blazing anger overtake them; may their encampments be desolate; may their tents stand empty… Add that to their guilt; let them have no share of Your beneficence; may they be erased from the book of life, and not be inscribed with the righteous. Psalm 69:23-29

David teaches an important lesson here. When we struggle with our brothers, we should pray for our own personal salvation but not their destruction. They are, after all, our brothers and we must love them unconditionally. But when we have enemies who are also the enemy of God, then we pray for mercy to be withheld from them.

Related Names and Places:

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 69

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