Contact Us

The Tunnels That Rebuilt Jerusalem

The Tunnels That Rebuilt Jerusalem

A Story of Oneness By Dispersion


Strange Story

It’s one of those things you’ll hear over and over in the Jewish world: Causeless hatred destroyed Jerusalem. Fix the hatred and rebuild Jerusalem.

The source is a passage in the Talmud, Yoma 9b. First, the Talmud describes the situation that brought about the first destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians: rampant idolatry, wanton murder and flagrant adultery. And then the sages ask—and you can feel the agony and anguish in the question:

And the Second Temple, when they were occupied in Torah, mitzvahs and acts of kindness—why was it destroyed?

Because there existed causeless hatred.

It was a time when study of Torah flourished, and along with that, many, many good deeds.

Read that carefully. The Jews weren’t just learning Torah, not just doing mitzvahs, not just acting out kindness—they were fully occupied in these things. From all the evidence we have, it was a time when study of Torah flourished, and along with that, many, many good deeds. People were caring for each other. Not exactly the bloodbath of in-fighting and hatred that one might expect to bring upon us almost two thousand years of exile.

The puzzle gets deeper. There’s one (just one) story to illustrate that causeless hatred, found in the Talmud, Gittin 55b:

Due to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.

You see, there was a man who had a friend named Kamtza, and a rival named Bar Kamtza. This man made a feast. He told his attendant, “Go and bring me Kamtza!”

But instead, his attendant brought Bar Kamtza.

When this man found Bar Kamtza sitting at his feast, he said to him, “Just a minute! You and I are rivals. What are you doing here? Get up and get out!”

Bar Kamtza replied, “Since I have already come, let me stay and I will pay for whatever I drink and eat.”

The man answered, “No!”

Bar Kamtza replied, “I will pay for half the feast.”

The man answered, “No!”

“I will pay for the entire feast!”

Again, “No!”

And then this man grabbed Bar Kamtza, picked him up and threw him out.

Bar Kamtza said to himself, “The rabbis were sitting there. They didn’t protest. That means they were pleased that I was thrown out!”

So Bar Kamtza devised a means to slander his own people, convincing the Caesar that they were planning a revolt. Within three years, Jerusalem was in ruins, the Temple Mount flattened, and our long and arduous exile had begun.

Now, hold on a minute:

It’s very nice that the rabbis are blaming themselves for the disaster, taking the load of guilt upon themselves. Very Jewish.

And yes, such an act of insensitivity was quite inexcusable.

But let me ask just three simple questions:

One: For this, Jerusalem was destroyed? This was the worst sin that could be found at the time?

Two: The story gives no hint of who was this man, or who were the rabbis sitting mutely around. The story provides only two names: “Due to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.”

Now, Bar Kamtza may not have been the most endearing fellow to begin with—it’s not your average mean neighbor who goes slandering the entire nation to the Caesar because his feelings were hurt. You might even argue that his reputation somewhat justified the treatment he received.

But Kamtza—what on earth did Kamtza do wrong? He didn’t even come to the party! Why is the disaster blamed on him?

How can exile and dispersion throughout the globe rehabilitate a crime of insensitivity at a party?

Three—and the most important: The punishment must fit the crime—because it’s meant to fix up the crime, to rehabilitate the criminal so that this won’t happen again. Now explain to me: How can exile and dispersion throughout the globe rehabilitate a crime of insensitivity at a party?

Mystery Solved

In our series Is Midrash For Real, we explained how to read stories of this genre, known as midrash. We also introduced one of the masters of midrashic interpretation, the 16th century Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, known as the Maharal of Prague. Here, too, the Maharal comes to the rescue.1

The first thing you have to know is that if the midrash tells you a name, there’s a reason that name is mentioned. The name means something—and in this case, something thematic to the story.

“What is a kamtza?” asks the Maharal. For one thing, kamtza is Aramaic for grasshopper.2

Here you have an interesting creature. It travels in a very great mass (well, certain ones do, and when doing so, we call the same creature locust, or in Hebrew, arbeh—related to the word ribui, meaning many), yet it has no society. As the proverb goes, “There is no king among the locust.”3 No leader, no pecking order, no families—just a mass of alike creatures blown in by the wind.

So, too, says the Maharal, we can have a mass of people that live together, work together, even do nice things for one another—and yet have nothing holding them together other than circumstance. Like locust, they are a multitude of persons, but not a people. Quite simply: They are living in the same country, keeping the same customs, and so, they might as well get along.

What’s so terrible?

Because that is not the Jewish People upon which the Temple is built.

The First Temple, writes the Maharal, was built upon the sanctity of the Land. The Land of Israel demands sanctity—especially Jerusalem, and especially if you want a Temple there. Once that sanctity was profaned with adultery, murder and idolatry, the foundation was gone, the Temple could no longer stand and the people were forced to leave.

The Second Temple, however, was built upon the integrity of the community. The people returned on their own initiative from Babylon and set themselves the task of resettling the land and rebuilding the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. They came as a single whole, as one person with one heart. And upon that Jerusalem and the Temple were built.

They came as a single whole, as one person with one heart. And upon that Jerusalem was built.

So when that integrity of the community began to crumble, the entire foundation of the Temple and Jerusalem crumbled. Yes, there were Jews who were friends. But the friend himself was a kamtza—an ally for the sake of divisiveness. As the Maharal explains, when people want to create division, they take one person as an ally—in this case, Kamtza—so that another can be the foe—Bar Kamtza. And that itself was a sign that the entire system had been undermined. It was a kamtza society—a mass of individuals held together by the wind, by circumstance.

The Dispersion Cure

So how is exile and dispersion the prescription to heal a crumbled community?

Simple, writes the Maharal: Because in such an exile, Jews are no longer a single nation by geographical circumstance—not even eating the same food, dressing the same dress or speaking the same language. Scattered to every corner of the planet, geographically, culturally and psychologically, we are forced to discover the essential oneness of our people that was so easily discarded when living together in one land.

And we have. We have discovered it in such a way that it can never again be lost.

Which is amazing.

Yes, I can hear the protests, “Not good enough! There’s quarrels! There’s hatred—even self-hating Jews! And there’s disdain of one group for the other!”

Those are the idealists.

When Jerusalem was destroyed, there were two schools of thought among the sages—the Shammai-niks and the Hillel-niks. Shammai-niks were idealists. Hillel-niks said, “Let’s see what the people can handle.”

Fortunately for all of us, the Hillel-niks won out. Because otherwise, this exile would last forever.

If you’re a pragmatist, if you can take into account human nature, it’s amazing.

The Oneness Unfolds

Three teenage boys were abducted and in whatever Jewish place of worship I might walk into, for three weeks, they were praying for those boys. From Singapore to Santa Cruz, from the Satmar Shteibel to the Reform Temple, the names of these boys were on the lips and in the hearts of those who came to pray. The tweets, the Whatsapps, the FB likes were coming from every sort of Jew imaginable. People who have never lived in Israel, perhaps never even visited the place cared. Truly cared.

A people that has been spread throughout the world for two millennium are praying for these kids, lighting Shabbat candles for these kids, united for these kids, because they’re Jewish kids. Because we are one.

After three weeks, on the third day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, we heard the news and the hearts of Israel across the globe dropped in unison. Many were angry with G‑d—how could He allow all these prayers, all this unity, to just dissipate into the void?

But it turned out there was no void.

It turned out that those who wish to destroy us had built a vast network of tunnels of terror, an entire hidden city connecting lethal munitions and technology with armies of terrorists, leaking into nursery schools and dining halls of Israeli communities in Israel’s south.

The plot was more demonic than any heard in history: to massacre and abduct hundreds of Israeli children and civilians on the holy day of Rosh Hashanah. And then to attack from land, air and from sea. Any missile we would fire would mean an instant casualty for Israel, regardless of where that missile would strike. As one MK put it, the calamity would have been far beyond anything Israel had ever seen, including the tragic casualties of the Yom Kippur War.

Looking from the outside, it was the abduction of those three boys that set off a chain reaction of events that thwarted a nightmare. Upset at our incursions to arrest the kidnappers, our enemies fired their missiles too soon. We were forced to invade. And as we took prisoners of war, they revealed to us the monstrous plan.

They built tunnels of terror; we built tunnels of love.

But looking deeper, as Rabbi Uriel Vigler expressed so well, we were saved by the tunnels we ourselves had built. Tunnels beneath the surface, connecting one Jew in this land to a Jew in another, one Jew at this end of the spectrum to a Jew at the other—tunnels, not underground, but in the heavens; tunnels, not of terror, but tunnels of love.

A tattoo-covered young Jew sitting on a flight to Israel discovered that the Modern Orthodox rabbi next to him was on a mission—to deliver consolation from his community to the families of those three boys. That sparked something inside him. He asked to borrow the rabbi’s tallit and tefillin. And then he said, “Rabbi, in Seattle, where I’m from, I don’t know where to get these black leather boxes. But if I had them, I would wrap them every day.”

At which point, a Satmar chassid—what the media calls ultra-ultra-orthodox—pops up his head, leans forward from the seat behind and says, “Sweet Jew, if you promise you will wrap them every day, I will FedEx them to you at no cost.”

If the three would be engaged in dialogue, they would probably rip into each other over almost every subject under the sun. But as a people, they are one, with one Torah, one heart and one set of black leather boxes.

And now, we all pray for the safety of those heroes endangering their lives so that our people in Israel can live in peace. We pray together for the safety of every person under attack, because each life is precious without measure. We check the news each morning as though it were happening right here. And it is, because a Jew in Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles or Calgary may be attacked, G‑d forbid, because of what his or her fellow Jews are doing to save themselves in Israel. Our enemies know well that we are one.

Exile and dispersion produced a miracle. It brought out an organic, irreducible oneness of our people that could not otherwise be imagined.

This exile has done it’s job. It’s time now for it to end.

In his Chidushei Agadot to the story in Gittin.
See Ediyot, chapter 8. On the words (Numbers 13:33), “…we were in their eyes as grasshoppers,” the classic Aramaic translation of Onkelos translates grasshoppers as kamatzim.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Yael Gollub califorina October 31, 2014

Thankful for you writting How did you pick Calgary? I lived there for 91/2 years. Reply

Aaron Parry August 5, 2014

Awesome article! "Nikarim divrei emes." Excellent rendition of this enigmatic story. One additional question I heard years ago, "Why does the host, who's throwing the banquet and looking directly at his nemesis, address him (and himself for that matter), in the third person?" (E.g. "That one is an enemy to that one"). Who in the world speaks like that, and why would the Talmud repeat it for posterity in such a fashion? Reply

Yehoshua Siskin Yerushalayim August 4, 2014

This piece of writing is a gem. Thank you so much. Reply

Anonymous LAKE BUTLER August 2, 2014

our prayers are with Israel ! Reply

Anonymous August 1, 2014

What is the time and place to heal?
Oneness by dispersion is a blessing. Yet the light that is outside of the walls and the light that is inside of the walls are part of the whole. Could not have one without the other. Reply

Bonnie tx July 31, 2014

tunnels that rebuilt Jerusalem Thank you Rabbi. Just what I needed to hear. Reply

David Aharon Lindzon-Lindsay Toronto, Ontario Canada July 30, 2014

Another look at the Bar Kamtza Story Here's two things that need to be stated
a] When Bar Kamtza offered to pay for the whole party, the host had nothing to lose and everything to gain because from the moment Bar Kamtza pays for his own meal the host loses nothing physically.
b] Let's update the idea clearly. Let's really put this story into modern perspective. You are Now the host of that party in 5774 for whatever occasion [Bar Mitzvah, Wedding, or Black Tie ultra formal business meeting party] and in walks Mr. Hobo, the man who almost bankrupted you 4 years ago] ...What do you do? Reply

Esther The Holy City July 30, 2014

Excellent! Justl excellent! I am do happy to be a Jew.

Thank you for this article! Reply

Chavah Kwiatkowska Latvia July 30, 2014

Dear Rabbi Freeman, I always enjoy your articles. Thank you for the clear explanation and the touching story about the 3 Jews on the airplane. Reply

Chavah Kwiatkowska Latvia July 30, 2014

Dear Rabbi Freeman, I always enjoy your articles. Thank you for the clear explanation and the touching story about the 3 Jews on the airplane. Reply

Adam San Diego, CA July 30, 2014

Thank you Rabbi. This article was exactly what we need right now. Reply

Anonymous Alabama July 30, 2014

This article itself is a tunnel that reveals the light and love of G-d as it connects people of good will to one another with the unmistakable "glue" of Torah!
With tears in my eyes I thank you: Judaism--well understood Judaism-- is indeed saving the world and each one of us, one humble mitzvah at a time!
Thank you again! Reply

Sharon Newton, MA July 30, 2014

I am so grateful for this insight -- brilliant and inspiring. Reply

Devorah F. Ma July 30, 2014

Here in Jerusalem I burst into tears at this wise and loving understanding of our people and our destiny. Thank you for all of us Reply

Elyahu Buenos Aires July 29, 2014

Just thank you I needed some chasidus words about this, and you went through them. Those sad Nine days are, actually very sad and now will live them by having your words in my mind.
Thank you, Mashiach now! Reply

Anonymous somewhere July 29, 2014

Thank you so much for writing this, I'm so happy that you can see it. The foundation of the Second Temple is repaired and we are building the foundation of the Third Temple. May it be revealed speedily in our days with the coming of Moshiah. Reply

Pessie Florida July 29, 2014

Thank you. Thank Hashem. What a beautiful mushel (analogy) of us building tunnels to unite us. And what an interesting explanation of the word "kamtza". It is true that couples or families or communities or a nation that is together but not united is missing the glue -- the love -- that gives meaning to life. They are like small children whose activities are described as "parallel play" because they are not socially developed to the point where they know how to engage in a relationship. Baruch Hashem, although we have felt that we were united -- connected -- to our Jewish brethren, recently we BEHAVED as if we are united by davening (praying) for the three boys and taking on extra mitzvos in their merit. We were united just as we were when we all fasted before Queen Esther did what she had to do to deter Haman's evil plans.. May our feelings and actions of deep love for one another bring Moshiach NOW. Reply

Naomi Valley Village, CA July 29, 2014

consolation Thank you for this deeply consoling message in these difficult times. Thank you, H"S for making me a Jew. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem July 29, 2014

Very lovely, but ad matai, how much longer, already? Reply

Anonymous Mexico July 29, 2014

I am not Jewish but pray that soon you will be the Light for the nations and a kingdom of priests. I believe this to be your ultimate destiny, Reply

This page in other languages