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YOU'RE INVITED

by Avi Wagner    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

A whole section of this week's Torah portion (Leviticus 22:17-26) deals with blemishes which disqualify an animal from becoming a korban (offering). Interestingly, these laws played a significant role in Jewish history:

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A whole section of this week's Torah portion (Leviticus 22:17-26) deals with blemishes which disqualify an animal from becoming a korban (offering). Interestingly, these laws played a significant role in Jewish history:

The Talmud (Tractate Gittin 55b) tells us that because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed. Towards the end of the period of the second Temple, there was a man who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. This man decided to make a festive meal and sent messengers to bring him Kamtza, but instead the messengers brought Bar Kamtza. When the man saw Bar Kamtza at the feast, he ordered Bar Kamtza to leave. Bar Kamtza insisted, "Since I have come, allow me to stay and I will pay for what I have eaten." The man refused. Bar Kamtza made a second offer: "Allow me to stay and I will pay for half of the feast." "No!" was the host's response. Bar Kamtza made one final offer: "I will pay for the entire feast if you let me stay." Again the man refused Bar Kamtza's generous offer, and proceeded to throw Bar Kamtza out of his affair. When Bar Kamtza saw that the rabbis at the meal did not stop the man, he assumed that they approved of the man's actions. Angrily, Bar Kamtza resolved to get the rabbis in trouble.

Bar Kamtza went and told the Caesar that the Jews were rebelling, but the Caesar didn't believe him. Bar Kamtza said I can prove it to you - offer the Jews a korban and see if they accept it. The Caesar sent a "good healthy" calf (this translation follows Tosafot's understanding of the Aramaic term in the Talmud). Along the way, Bar Kamtza created a blemish on the calf's upper lip, or others say on the white of its eye, both of which are considered disqualifying wounds by the Jews, but not by the gentiles. Because of this blemish, the rabbis ultimately did not accept the Caesar's korban, and out of anger the Caesar destroyed Jerusalem, as the story continues for several more pages.

There are many important lessons to be gleaned from this story, but let us focus on one of them. Why did Bar Kamtza wound specifically the eye or the lip? What are these body parts symbolic of? The Maharsha, a classic commentator on the Aggadic sections in the Talmud, explains that the blemish in the lip is symbolic of lashon harah (evil speech or slander), a sin rampant in that generation. The wound in the eye represents the unfavorable manner in which the Jews of that generation looked upon their brethren.

This explanation of the Maharsha provides us a new way to understand the Torah's perspective on blemishes in an animal. When the Torah describes scratches and cuts in an animal's leg, it calls attention not only to the animal nearby. Rather, the blemish signifies a time for introspection, a time for us to look at our own ethical blemishes and consider which aspects of our character and behavior need correction.

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Avi Wagner, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Bais Yisrael in Jerusalem.

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