Why was the Temple destroyed? The Talmud says: Because of baseless hatred amongst Jews. The following story from the Talmud (Gittin 56) explains:

During Temple times, man wanted to throw a party for all his friends, so he drew up a guest list and had his servant to send out the invitations. One of the men on the guest list was named "Kamtza," but the servant made a mistake and invited "Bar Kamtza" instead. Oops - Bar Kamtza was actually a sworn enemy of the host!

When Bar Kamtza received his invitation, he was gratified to think that the host had finally made amends. But when Bar Kamtza showed up at the party, the host took one look and instructed his servant to have him removed from the premises. "I understand the mistake, but it's embarrassing for me to be asked to leave the party," said Bar Kamtza. "I'll gladly pay the cost of my meal if you'll just allow me to stay."

The host would hear nothing of this, and reiterated his demand to have Bar Kamtza removed. Bar Kamtza appealed again: "I'd even be willing to pay half the cost of the entire party, if only I'd be allowed to stay." But again the request was denied. At which point, the distraught Bar Kamtza pleaded: "I'll pay for the entire party! Just please don't embarrass me in this way!"

The host, however, stuck to his guns and threw Bar Kamtza out. The Talmud reports that Bar Kamtza was so hurt and upset, that he went straight to the Romans and reported disloyal behavior among the Jews. This angered the Romans so much that they attacked and destroyed the Holy Temple.

Says the Talmud: "They burned a building which was already ashes." With Jew pitted against Jew, the spiritual force of the Temple had already withdrawn.

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Nowhere does this malady manifest itself more than in the way we gossip about one another. Loshon Hara (gossip), the Talmud says, is the single greatest source of our long, painful exile. To the extent we tolerate abusive talk is the extent we contribute to our exile. But we can break the cycle if we so choose.

The story is told of Rabbi Eliya Lopian (20th century Israel) who was holed up in a crowded bomb shelter during the 1948 War of Independence. A few of the people inside the shelter were speaking Loshon Hara, when suddenly Rabbi Lopian got up, opened the bomb shelter door and stepped outside. "But there's rockets raining overhead," the people shouted, "You're putting yourself in great danger!" Rabbi Lopian calmly turned to them and said, "By sitting amidst gossip, I am in even greater danger."