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Unconditional Love and the Nine Days

Every year those in my shevet who live in Israel have a BBQ on Israel Independence Day, and this year I told the following story at our annual bash.
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July 19, 2023
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There is a joke among alumni of the B’nei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement that, at any age, and even if memory blips have begun, you will never forget which shevet you were in. 

“Shevet” — literally “tribe” in Hebrew — is the name given to the group to which one belongs from a specific age set. Young people meet in those groups on Shabbat and for special events, and when they go to camp, they share the same bunk. They form a special bond created from shared learning, laughter and love of their ideals and for each other. Later they spend a gap year in Israel, and in the case of B’nei Akiva, many eventually make aliyah and Israel becomes their home.

Every year those in my shevet who live in Israel have a BBQ on Israel Independence Day, and this year I told the following story at our annual bash. I don’t know why I suddenly accessed this memory from decades ago; maybe it was the delicious hamburgers served.

Here is the story. 

A few months before my 12th birthday I went to B’nei Akiva’s Camp Moshava in Wisconsin, along with other friends from Cleveland. 

We would take the train to Chicago, the camp organizers would put us up overnight at families in the city, and we’d all continue by train to Wisconsin the next day. I’m sure the families were carefully vetted regarding their Orthodoxy, as Moshava is an Orthodox camp.

Our trip to camp that year occurred during the Nine Days, the time period concluding the three weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av, when Jews are in mourning for the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.

One of the practices during that period is refraining from the eating of meat and the drinking of wine (both of which are permitted, however, on Shabbat).

Three girlfriends and I had been placed with a lovely family who had a son going to camp the next day. We unpacked our overnight bags and went down to supper. And there on the table were … hamburgers.

The four of us looked at each other and in almost the blink of an eye we made a decision: The eldest among us (who happened to be past bat mitzvah age, perhaps that was a factor in our decision) would tell our hosts that thank you, but she didn’t like meat, and she would only have the side dishes. The rest of us would eat the hamburgers, in order to not cause embarrassment to the family. 

We had no doubts whatsoever about the kashruth of the food, but we understood that they may not have been aware of this particular practice. 

We all came from Orthodox homes, yet apparently, even at our age, we intuited that there was a difference in the halachic status of not eating meat during the Nine Days and such laws as Shabbat and kashrut. 

We also had been taught how wrong it was to cause embarrassment to someone.

Values education occurs less through books, and more by modelling the behavior of adults who we admire and respect.

How did we know that? I think that we had imbibed it from our parents, our teachers, our rabbis, our youth counsellors, our camp. Values education occurs less through books, and more by modelling the behavior of adults who we admire and respect.

Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

When I reflected on this story, I was reminded of the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which appears in the Talmud (Gittin 55b). It is paraphrased here by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz for an online publication of the Orthodox Union: “There was a wealthy man who lived at the time of the second Temple. (His name is not given.) This man had a close friend named Kamtza and a bitter enemy named Bar Kamtza. When throwing a big party, he instructed his servant to deliver an invitation to his dear friend Kamtza. The servant, however, made a mistake and delivered the invitation to the hated Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza must have been thrilled, assuming that the man wished to reconcile, because he did in fact appear at the party. Unfortunately, when the host saw Bar Kamtza, he flew into a rage and ordered him to leave. Bar Kamtza, seeking to avoid humiliation, offered to pay for whatever he would eat at the party. When this offer was refused, he offered to pay for half of the party. When this was refused, Bar Kamtza offered to pay for the entire party. The host angrily turned this down as well and had Bar Kamtza forcibly removed.” 

The Talmud, and Rabbi Abramowitz’s paraphrase, continues to describe how there were sages sitting there who did not protest the actions of the host. Bar Kamtza, humiliated, goes to the Roman authorities and, through a series of machinations, provokes the war against the Jews that, in the year 70 A.C.E., leads to the destruction of the second Temple, the death of many Jews and the sale of others to slavery in foreign lands. Those who remained lived under Roman occupation. Sixty years later was the unsuccessful revolt of Bar Kochba. Subsequent occupiers included Persians, Muslims, the Crusaders, the Ottomans and the British, among others.

As a matter of fact, Am Yisrael — the Jewish people — renewed our rule over the land of Israel only 1878 years later, with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. We regained more, including the Old City of Jerusalem and its environs, and the biblical heartlands of Judea and Samaria, and the Golan Heights, in the Six Day War in 1967. (And the Sinai Peninsula, which was signed over to Egypt in the Camp David Accords in 1978.)

It’s all about love

It is stated in the Talmud, “The Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred.”

Rabbi Yehezkel of Kuzhmir, in his book “Nehmad Mezahav,” wrote in 1907 (5667), “As the destruction of the Temple came from unconditional hatred, so to repair this, every one of [Am] Yisrael must love his fellow unconditionally.” 

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935) wrote in his book “Orot Hakodesh,” published posthumously, “If we were destroyed and will be destroyed in this world through baseless hatred, we will return to be built, and with us the world, through unconditional love.” The words, “Better I fail in unconditional love than in unconditional hate” are also attributed to him. [Quoted by Simcha Raz in his book on Rav Aryeh Levin, “A Tzadik in our Time.”]

And that is how the memory I shared with my shevet at our BBQ on Israel Independence Day this year, brought full circle the connection of unconditional love and living today as the Jewish people, in freedom, in the land of Israel. 

We must now work and pray to remember that they are forever intertwined.


Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist and theater director and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com. 

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