DIVREI TORAH

BECHUKOSAI – IF I SINK HIS BOAT, I GO DOWN WITH IT

OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: BECHUKOSAI - IF I SINK HIS BOAT, I GO DOWN WITH IT

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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It’s that famous story about a scorpion that wants to cross a river.

The river, though, is too wide to cross. So the scorpion turns to a frog sitting nearby and asks: “Frog, can you carry me across the river on your back?”.

The frog replies by asking: “Scorpion, won’t you sting - and kill - me when you’re on my back?”.

“I won’t do that! If I kill you, you’ll sink into the river and then I’ll die with you!” replies the scorpion.

The frog accepts the scorpion’s answer and agrees to ferry him across the river. The scorpion mounts the frog’s back and the frog begins swimming across the river. Midway, the frog feels a sting in his back. He looks up and sees the scorpion removing his stinger from the frog's back.

A deadening numbness begins creeping through the frog's limbs.

“Why did you do that?” croaks the frog. “Now we’ll both die.”

And the incorrigibly self-destructive scorpion could only respond, “because I’m a scorpion.”

Yes, scorpions are driven to destroy others - even when that destruction will also envelop them.

And it isn’t just scorpions.

We, humans share that drive - and that propensity - for self- destruction.

That drive informs the following possuk: “I will scatter you among the nations ... there you will stumble over each other... and you will not be able to stand up against your enemy.”[1]

What is this “stumbling over each other?” And how does that “stumbling” prevent us from “standing up against your enemy.”[2]

It’s the divisions, the infighting and the other mutually destructive acts that weaken us as individuals and as communities. Such acts – and the weaknesses they engender – preclude us from presenting a united front that can “stand up against your enemy.”[3]

And one heartrending example of such “stumbling” is the famous Kamtza-Bar Kamtza story. This story began unfolding at a party that was hosted in Yerushalayim during the second beis hamikdash’s waning years. That party’s host sent invitations to his friends, one of whom was a man named Kamtza.

The host’s invitation, though, was misdirected. It went, instead, to someone named Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza was the host’s enemy.

Bar Kamtza’s receipt of that invitation – it was certainly unexpected – made him think that the host was seeking rapprochement. Bar Kamtza went to that party expecting reconciliation.

Reconciliation, unfortunately, is not what happened. Instead, a conflagration arose when the host saw his enemy “crashing” the party. The host didn’t know - or didn’t want to know - about misdirected invitations. All he knew was that he didn’t want his enemy attending his party, so Bar Kamtza was summarily ejected.

That ejection enraged Bar Kamtza. So much so, that Bar Kamtza vowed to punish the entire community for this humiliation. Bar Kamtza’s mad quest for revenge led to him conspire with the Romans against the community. Those conspiracies culminated in the destruction of the second beis ha-mikdash.[4]

The Kamtza-Bar Kamtza story is well-known.

What isn’t well-known is that this mad quest must have come back to haunt Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza was, after all, a Jew, and a resident of Yerushalayim and of Eretz Yisrael. Whatever destruction Bar Kamtza brought to the Jews, to Yerushalayim and to Eretz Yisrael must have consumed those near and dear to Bar Kamtza, including Bar Kamtza himself.

When Bar Kamtza sank the community, he also drowned himself.

But he did it anyway.

Why?

Because, like scorpions, we sometimes sting other people - even when those stings “sink” us.

And do you know when we’re most prone to sting? When - as in Bar Kamtza’s case - someone hurts or offends us.

When that happens, we’ll sting that offender with harsh words, a cold shoulder or with a panoply of smallness and meanness.

But if it’s a spouse, a relative or a friend that we sting, then we are also, in turn, sinking ourselves.

And that’s because, our connection to spouses, relatives and friends, causes us to rise and fall with them. Given that, when spouses, relatives and friends sink, we sink with them.

Truth be told, stinging strangers is also scorpion-like. And that’s because stinging anyone – whether we are or aren’t connected to that person - means that we are hurting another person. And when we act small by hurting others, we diminish ourselves.

Isn’t that what sinking is all about?

No, we dare not sting others.

It is, indeed, difficult not to sting when others have hurt us.

But it’s possible.

We just need to focus on minimizing the pain of that offense. We can do that by noting that the offense may have been unintentional. Or that the offense occurred during a moment of emotional imbalance. Or that the offender is less emotionally healthy than we are.

Yes, there are many healthy ways to respond to hurt.

None of them, though, should involve stinging other people.

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be scholar-in-residence at the Honor’s Haven Resort for Shavuos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000

[1] Vayikra 26:33-38

[2] Vayikra 26:33-38

[3] Vayikra 26:33-38

[4] Gittin 55b

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