"Just look the other way!"

"Live and let live!"

"What's it to you, anyway?"

These are the mantras of our age of impersonalization…

Mind your own business, we tell ourselves. It's not your place to mix in, friends admonish one another. Even parents follow suit. And neighbors scrupulously defend these mottos. We feel it is wrong to interfere with issues that are not our own.

Tolerance and acceptance are espoused as our eleventh commandment. But I think that these positive words are merely cloaking our shameful apathy. They hide our real attitude of, "I don't really care enough about you or your issues to assist/make change/become involved, so instead I righteously act as if I don't want to interfere."

I remember one of the first times that I came face to face with apathy. I was visiting New York City as a young child. We were walking along a downtown street when I happened to notice a bulky form strewn across the sidewalk. As we approached, I was appalled to discern the shape of a human being, huddled on the ground, obliviously unaware in his drunken stupor of anyone around him. It was midday and without a hiccup to their quick pace, the flow of pedestrians stepped right over him as they went about their regular business. As a child, I couldn't comprehend the concept of a homeless vagabond sleeping on the boulevard, but it was even more jarring for me to witness the callous reaction of these fellow citizens.

While I'm not suggesting that we all approach homeless strangers in our downtown streets, this disregard for another has dangerously seeped into our own communities and lifestyles to the point that we avoid confronting unethical situations—under the guise of our "live and let live" attitude.

Suppose you were witness to a senior being verbally abused—would you rise above the crowd by being the sole voice of protest, or would you take the easier route and merely look the other way? Suppose it was your friend who was perpetuating this abuse, would you approach him to rectify the wrong, or would you remain silent under the guise of "it's not my place to say anything"?

The Talmud states that the Temple was destroyed due to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is well-known and goes like this:

A Jewish individual had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. When this man made a large feast, he instructed his servant to invite Kamtza but instead the servant mistakenly invited his foe, Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza attended, assuming that their past rivalries had been forgiven. When the host discovered Bar Kamtza's presence, he demanded his immediate eviction. Bar Kamtza's pleas to be spared the public humiliation would not soften the host's stance. The host even adamantly refused Bar Kamtza's generous offer to pay for the entire feast as long as he'd be permitted to remain. Though the great rabbis and important people of Jerusalem were present, no one interfered. Bar Kamtza was so outraged and disgusted by this incident that he eventually plotted to libel the Jews before the Roman Emperor. This ultimately led to the Temple's destruction. (See the full story here. )

The Temple was destroyed due to unfounded hatred between Jews. The lack of leadership played a central role in the degeneration of the generation.

Yet the Talmud specifically blames Kamtza as well as Bar Kamtza—"Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed." Bar Kamtza was the individual who was in a serious dispute with the host. Yet Kamtza, the host's friend, appears entirely innocent. Kamtza wasn't even present at the affair, so what role did he possibly play in this wrongdoing? Why does the Talmud hold him accountable?

Yet perhaps the Talmud is teaching us about the necessity of doing our part—for each of us, “small” people, friends or neighbors—whether or not our leadership is setting the proper example.

Kamtza's fault stemmed from being aware of his friend's irreconcilable hatred towards his enemy. Kamtza heard about it, knew about it, witnessed it on occasions, yet remained ambivalent. Kamtza did nothing to rectify the situation.

Remaining silent while a wrong is being perpetuated, makes you, too, a party to the guilt. Apathetic silence to a crime is deemed acquiescence.

The Temple was destroyed for no less a reason.

Minding our own business is no justification. Our job is to make justice our business.