The good Dr. Aryeh Cohen has some worthwhile commentary on the Iraq war and Tisha b’Av over on the Jews Against the War site. It begins:

When we are lucky we get a second chance. Tragedy often results from blowing the second chance. Two stories bring this thought to mind. One is found in the Midrash and is a reflection on the destruction of the Temple. The other is about a very prominent twentieth century philosopher. These thoughts occur to me on the background of the three weeks of reflection that lead to the fast of the Ninth of Av, and which, this year, began the day before the Fourth of July.

Zechariah ben Avkulos is a rarely recorded Sage who apparently lived in the time of the Second Temple. According to the Palestinian Midrash Eichah Rabba, he happened to be at the party that led to the destruction of the Temple. The party was thrown by some very important individual who had invited all of the Rabbis and others of the upper strata of society. He invited Kamtza, his close friend and purposely did not invite his nemesis Bar Kamtza. There was some mix-up, however, and Bar Kamtza ended up at the party. The man was so enraged that he demanded that Bar Kamtza immediately leave. After much pleading so as to avoid public humiliation (“let me pay for my food…; let me pay for half the party…; let me pay for the whole party…”), the host physically ejected Bar Kamtza. As he was being dragged out, Bar Kamtza saw that all the Rabbis, including Zechariah ben Avkulas, did not lift a finger to help him.

Bar Kamtza was so enraged that he hatched a plot to prove to the Roman Ceasar that the Jews were rebelling. As the culmination of the plot, Bar Kamtza brought a sacrifice from the Ceasar to the Temple. Bar Kamtza knew the animal was blemished, but in a way that the Romans would not notice and thus when the priests refused Ceasar’s sacrifice it would be obvious that the Jews were no longer loyal subjects.

By chance, Zecharyah ben Avkulas was at the Temple that day as Bar Kamtzah brought the Caesar’s blemished sacrificed to be burnt upon the altar—second chances. The Midrash relates that, instead of making up for his earlier performance, he blew it again. He did not have the courage to either bend sacrificial law (put the blemished sacrifice on the altar) or criminal law (kill Bar Kamtza) to save the Temple and thousands of lives. Was it because he did not have the courage to stop Bar Kamtza’s humiliation that he could not summon the courage to thwart Bar Kamtza’s plan? When does one start slipping down the slope? When do you know that it’s a slope?

Read the rest of it here.

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