The story of the destruction
Gemara Gittin 55a-58a
Rebbe Yochanon said: What is the meaning of the verse, “Happy is the man that is always in fear, but he that hardens his heart shall fall into trouble? The destruction of Yerushalayim came about due to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza; the destruction of Tur Malka came about due to a chicken and a hen; the destruction of Beitar came about due to the side wall of a wagon. The destruction of Yerushalayim came through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza in this way. A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamza. He once threw a party and said to his servant, Go invite Kamtza. The man went and brought Bar Kamtza. When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, You, my enemy, what are you doing here? Get out. Bar Kamtza replied that since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.
He said to him, I will not let you remain. Bar Kamtza replied: Then let me give you half the cost of the party. No, said the host. Bar Kamtza replied: Then let me pay for the whole party. The host still said no, and he took him by the hand and expelled him from the party. Bar Kamtza said to himself, Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not protest the actions of the host, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them, to the Government. Bar Kamtza went and said to the Emperor, The Jews are rebelling against you. The emperor said, How do you know? He said to him: Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar]. So, he sent with him a fine calf. During the journey, Bar Kamtza made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death? R. Yochanon thereupon remarked: Through the humility and patience of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we have been exiled from our land.
He [the Emperor] sent Nero the Caesar to fight them. When he arrived near Yerushalayim, he shot an arrow towards the east, and it fell in Yerushalayim. He then shot one towards the west, and it again fell in Yerushalayim. He shot towards all four directions of the sky, and each time it fell in Yerushalayim. He then asked a certain boy: Repeat to me [the last] verse of Scripture you have learnt. The boy replied: “And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel.” Nero then stated: The Holy One, blessed be He, desires to destroy his House and to then atone his actions using me. Nero proceeded to run away and became a convert, and R. Meir descended from him.
The Emporor then sent against them Vespasian the Caesar who came and besieged Yerushalayim for three years. In Yerushalayim, there were three men of great wealth, Nakdimon ben Gorion, Ben Kalba Sabua and Ben Tzitzis Hakeses. Nakdimon ben Gorion was called this name because one time the sun delayed its sunset for his sake. Ben Kalba Sabua was called his name because a guest who would go into his house hungry as a dog would come out satiated. Ben Tzitzis Hakeses was called his name because his Tzitzis used to trail on cushions. Others say his name derived from the fact that his seat was among those of the nobility of Rome. One of these wealthy men said to the people of Yerushalayim, I will supply them with wheat and barley. A second said, I will supply them with wine, oil and salt. The third said, I will supply them with wood. The Rabbis praised specifically the one who offered wood as the most generous, as R. Hisda used to hand all his keys to his servant except for the key for the wood storage, for R. Hisda used to say, a storehouse of wheat requires sixty stores of wood [for fuel]. These men had enough supplies to support the city for twenty-one years. There were a group of armed thugs, called Biryonim, who were then in the city. The Sages said to them: Let us go out and make peace with the Romans. The Biryonim would not let them, and on the contrary said, Let us go out and fight them. The Sages replied that they will not be successful. The Biryonim then rose up and burnt the warehouses of wheat, barley and wood so that a famine ensued, [and they would be forced to fight]
[The following occurred as a result of the famine.] Martha the daughter of Beisus was the richest woman in Yerushalayim. She sent her servant out saying, Go and bring me some fine flour. By the time he arrived it was sold out. He came and told her, There is no fine flour, but there is white [flour]. She then said to him, Go and bring me some white flour. By the time he arrived the white flour sold out. He returned and told her, There is no white flour but there is dark flour. She said to him, Go and bring me some dark flour. By the time he arrived it was sold out. He returned and said to her, There is no dark flour, but there is barley flour. She said, Go and bring me some barley flour. By the time he went this was also sold out. She had just taken off her shoes when this news arrived, and she decide to hurriedly go out herself to venture for some food and see if she can find anything to eat. Some dung stuck to her foot as she was walking and she died [as a result of the repulsiveness]. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai applied to her the verse, “The tender and delicate woman among you which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground.” Other versions state that she ate a fig left by Reb Tzadok, and became nauseated and died. Rebbe Tzadok had fasted for the last forty years to help prevent the destruction of Yerushalayim, [and he became so thin that] when he ate anything, the food could be seen [as it passed through his throat and intestines.] When he wanted to restore his health, they used to bring him a fig, and he used to suck the juice and throw the rest away. When Martha was dying, she took out all her gold and silver and threw it in the street, saying, What is the good of this to me, thus giving effect to the verse, “They shall cast their silver in the streets.”
Abba Sikra was the head of the Biryonim in Yerushalayim and was the nephew, son of the sister, of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Rebbe Yochanon sent to him saying, Come visit me privately. When he came, Rebbe Yochanan said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation? Aba Sikra replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me. He said: Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to bring some salvation. Aba Sikra said to him: Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something with a putrid odor and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let then your disciples get under your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse.
He did so, and R. Eliezer went under the coffin from one side and R. Yehoshua from the other side. When they reached the exit gate from Yerushalayim, The Biryonim wanted to stab the coffin [to make sure he is dead]. Aba Sikra said to them: Shall [the Romans] say. They have pierced their Master? They wanted to push it. He said to them: Shall they say that they pushed their Master? So they then opened a town gate for him and he got out.
When Rebbe Yochanon reached the Romans he said to Vespasian, Peace to you, O king, peace to you, O king. He [Vespasian] said: You are liable for death on two counts, one because I am not a king and you call me king, and a second because, if I am a king, why did you not come to me before now?
Rebbe Yochanon replied: As for your saying that you are not a king, in truth you are a king, since if you were not a king, Yerushalayim would not be delivered into your hand, as it is written, “And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.” ‘Mighty one’ refers to a king, as it is written, “And their mighty one shall be of themselves etc.”; and Lebanon refers to the Sanctuary, as it says, “This goodly mountain and Lebanon.” As for your question, why if you are a king, did I not come to you until now, the answer is that the Biryonim among us did not let me. Vespasian said to him; If there is a jar of honey with a serpent wrapped around it, would they not break the jar to get rid of the serpent? Rebbe Yochanon could give no answer. R. Yosef, or as some say R. Akiva, applied to him the verse, “[God] turned wise men backward and made their knowledge foolish.” He could have answered: One should take a pair of tongs and grip the snake and kill it, and leave the jar intact.
At this point, a messenger came to him from Rome saying, Get up, for the Emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have elected you head of the State. Vespasian had just finished putting on one shoe. When he tried to put on the other shoe, he could not. He tried to take off the first shoe but it would not come off. He asked Rebbe Yochanon: What is the meaning of this? R. Yochanan replied: Do not worry: the good news has done it, as the verse states, “Good tidings make the bone fat. What is the remedy? Let people whom you dislike come and pass before you, as it is written, “A broken spirit dries up the bones. He did so, and the boot went on. He said to him: Seeing that you are so wise, why did you not come to me until now? Rebbe Yochanon replied: Have I not told you? He retorted: I too have told you. Vespasian said; I am now going back to Rome, and will send someone to take my place. You can, however, make a request of me and I will grant it. Rebbe Yochanon said to him: Give me Yavneh and its Sages, and the family chain of Rabban Gamliel, and physicians to heal R. Zadok. Rebbe Joseph, or some say Rebbe Akiva, applied to him the verse, “[God] turned wise men backward and made their knowledge foolish.” He ought to have said to him; Let the Jews off this time. He, however, thought that so much he would not grant, and so even a little would not be saved.
How did the physicians heal R. Tzadok? The first day they let him drink water in which bran had been soaked; on the next day water in which there had been coarse meal; on the next day water in which there had been flour, so that his stomach expanded little by little.
Vespasian sent Titus who said, “Where is their God, the rock in whom they trusted?” This was the wicked Titus who blasphemed and insulted Heaven. What did he do? He took a harlot by the hand and entered the Holy of Holies and spread out a scroll of the Law and committed a sin on it. He then took a sword and slashed the curtain. Miraculously, blood spurted out, and he thought that he had slain Hashem himself, as it says, “The adversaries have roared in the midst of the assembly, they have set up their ensigns for signs.” Abba Chanan said: Who is a mighty one like Hashem? Who is mighty in self-restraint, that he hears the blaspheming and insults of that wicked man and keeps silent? In the Yeshiva of R. Yishmael it was taught; Who is like You among the G-d’s? Who is like you among the deaf ones. Titus further took the curtain and shaped it like a basket and brought all the vessels of the Sanctuary and put them in it, and then put them on a ship to go and triumph with them in his city, as it says, “And withal I saw the wicked buried, and they that come to the grave and they that had done right went away from the holy place and were forgotten in the city.” Read not keburim [buried] but kebuzim [collected]; read not veyishtakehu [and were forgotten] but veyishtabehu [and triumphed]. Some say that keburim [can be retained], because even Temple items that were buried were disclosed to Titus.
A tsunami sprang up at sea which threatened to wreck the ship. Titus said: Apparently, the power of the G-d of these people is only over water. When Pharaoh came, He drowned him in water, when Sisra came, He drowned him in water. He is also trying to drown me in water. If he is really mighty, let him come up on the dry land and fight with me. A voice went forth from heaven saying; Sinner, son of a sinner, descendant of Esav the sinner, I have a tiny creature in my world called a gnat. Why is it called a tiny creature? Because it has an orifice for taking in but not for excreting. Go up on the dry land and make war with it. When he landed, the gnat came and entered his nose, and it knocked against his brain for seven years. One day as he was passing a blacksmith, it heard the noise of the hammer and stopped. He said; I see there is a remedy. So every day they brought a blacksmith who hammered before him. If he was a non-Jew they gave him four zuz, if he was a Jew they said, It is enough that you see the suffering of your enemy. This went on for thirty days, until the creature got used to it. It has been taught: R. Pinchas ben Aruva said; I was in company with the notables of Rome, and when Titus died, they split open his skull and found in there something like a sparrow two selas in weight. A Tanna taught; Like a young dove two pounds in weight. Abaye said; We have it on record that its beak was of copper and its claws of iron. When Titus died he said: Burn me and scatter my ashes over the seven seas so that the G-d of the Jews should not find me and bring me to trial.
Onkelos son of Kolonikos was the son of Titus’s sister. He desired to convert to Judaism. He went and raised Titus from the dead through sorcery, and asked him; “Who is the most important nation in the upper world? Titus replied: Israel. He said, What do you say about me joining them? Titus said: Their observances are burdensome and you will not be able to carry them out. Go and attack them in that world and you will be made a leader, as it is written, Her adversaries become the head etc.; whoever harasses Israel becomes head. He asked him: What is your punishment [in the other world]?
He replied: What I decreed for myself. Every day my ashes are collected and sentence is passed on me and I am burnt and my ashes are scattered over the seven seas. He then went and raised Balaam by incantations. He asked him: Who is in repute in the other world? He replied: Israel. What then, he said, about joining them? He replied: Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever. He then asked: What is your punishment? He replied: With boiling hot semen. He then went and raised by incantations the sinners of Israel [Yoshka]. He asked them: Who is in repute in the other world? They replied: Israel. What about joining them? They replied: Seek their welfare, seek not their harm. Whoever touches them touches the apple of his eye. He said: What is your punishment?
They replied: With boiling hot excrement, since a Master has said: Whoever mocks at the words of the Sages is punished with boiling hot excrement. Observe the difference between the sinners of Israel and the prophets of the other nations who worship idols. It has been taught: Note from this incident how serious a thing it is to put a man to shame, for God espoused the cause of Bar Kamza and destroyed His House and burnt His Temple.