What does the humility of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas by muktzeh have to do with the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash?
.שבת דף קמג
מתני׳: בית שמאי אומרים: מעבירין מעל השלחן עצמות וקליפין. ובית הלל אומרים: מסלק את הטבלא כולה ומנערה
גמ׳: אמר רב נחמן: אנו אין לנו אלא בית שמאי כרבי יהודה, ובית הלל כרבי שמעון… הני גרעינין דתמרי ארמייתא שרו לטלטולינהו הואיל וחזיין אגב אמן ודפרסייתא אסור שמואל מטלטל להו אגב ריפתא… רב ששת זריק להו בלישניה, רב פפא .זריק להו אחורי המטה, אמרו עליו על רבי זכריה בן אבקולס שהיה מחזיר פניו אחורי המטה וזורקן
To summarize, the Mishna tells us that according to Bais Shamai one is allowed to remove bones and peels off the table, since they are edible for animals (see Tosfos), and according to Bais Hillel they are muktzeh. The Gemara tells us that we should change the wording of the Mishna, for we pasken like Reb Shimon who does not hold these are muktzeh. Therefore Bais Hillel should be the one who holds that bones are not muktzeh.
The Gemara then tells us that Shmuel would not hold the pits of dates by hand, rather he would only hold them by using bread. Tosfos explains that although Shmuel holds like Reb Shimon that they are not muktzeh, since he was an important person he was stringent upon himself not to move them by hand. Since people may see him doing something and do so as well, while not understanding there are nuances when one is allowed to move these pits. We find this concept in the previous Daf as well, that both Abaye and Rava were stringent upon themselves in regards to muktzeh for they recognized themselves to be important people, and were worried people may learn from their actions in a way where it is not permitted.
It is implied that this was the case with Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas as well, who would turn his face to throw the pits directly behind where he was sitting. Either he held like Rav Yehudah and believed they were muktzeh or held like Reb Shimon but was stringent with himself as he was an important person.
However, the Tosefta (17:4) mentions the custom of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas slightly different than the Bavli. He would take the pits and throw them behind the place he was sitting. It seems that he would physically hold them but would discard them quickly, unlike the Bavli which seems that he never held them, rather he spit them out.
The Tosefta concludes with an interesting but seemingly irrelevant line, “Reb Yose said, the humility of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas burned the Bais Hamikdash”.
The question is, how did he cause the Bais Hamikdash to be burned, and why is this relevant here in the laws of muktzeh? Is this a completely irrelevant remark about Rabbi Zecharya, or is there some connection to muktzeh?
What was the humility of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas
The Ostrovtser Gaon (1852- 1928) writes in his sefer Meir Einei Chachomim (Volume 3 page 168) gives the following brilliant explanation.
The Gemara in Gittin (Daf 56a) tells us the following story:
Bar Kamtza went to the Roman Empire and said that The Jews have rebelled against you. The emperor said to him, “Who says that this is the case?” Bar Kamtza said to him, “Go and test them; send them an offering to be brought in honor of the government, and see whether they will sacrifice it”.
While Bar Kamtza was coming with the calf to the Bais Hamikdash, he made a blemish on the calf. Chazal thought of sacrificing the animal as an offering due to the imperative to maintain peace with the government. Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas said to them: “If you allow that, people will say that blemished animals may be sacrificed as a Korban”. Chazal said: “If we do not sacrifice it, then we must prevent Bar Kamtza from reporting this to the emperor”. The Sages thought to kill him so that he would not go and speak against them. Rabbi Zecharya said to them: If you kill him, people will say that one who makes a blemish on a Korban is to be killed. As a result, they did nothing, Bar Kamtza’s slander was accepted by the authorities, and consequently, the war between the Jews and the Romans began leading to the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash.
The Gemara tells us in the name of Rabbi Yochanan “The humility of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas destroyed our House, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land”.
The Vilna Gaon asks what is the relevance of his humility. Rabbi Zecharya gave a reason he felt this should be the course of action. Perhaps his reason was wrong, but how was his humility the cause of the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash?
The Vilna Gaon explains as follows. Chazal tells us in Sanhedrin (Daf 32a) when it comes to judging a person’s life, we must begin from the side of the Sanhedrin as opposed to the middle where the great Rabbis would sit. The reason Chazal says that should be the order, since one should not disagree with one who is greater than him. If we would begin from the middle, where the greater Rabbis sits, he may say that the person being judged is guilty. The others in Sanhedrin will choose not to disagree with him as he is greater, although in reality, the majority opinion would have said that the person is innocent, causing an innocent man to die. Therefore Chazal instituted that the judgment should begin from the side, allowing everyone to express their true opinion. Even if the Godol will say he is guilty we would have a majority against him, allowing true justice to take its course.
In the story of Bar Kamtza, in reality, the majority disagreed with Rabbi Zecharya, but as he voiced his opinion first they did not want to disagree with him as he was the greatest amongst them. Rabbi Zecharya should have been aware that this may be an issue and should have asked them to express their views first, which was as the Gemara tells us, that they believed the offering should be allowed to be sacrificed. For as in the Sanhedrin, such an important question would need to have been judged correctly in the right order, allowing those who have a different opinion to express their views. This would have prevented the war with the Romans, for the majority was of the opinion that it should have been allowed.
The reason why Rabbi Zecharya did speak first was because he had such humility that he truly perceived himself as one of the small ones in the group, and did not see what the issue would be if he spoke first. He caused an imbalance in the judgment by answering first. Therefore the Gemara concludes “The humility of Rabbi Zecharya ben Avkolas destroyed our House, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land”.
Similarly, the Ostrovtser Gaon explains the Tosefta. According to the Tosefta, Rabbi Zecharya removed the pits by hand. As mentioned before we find in the Gemara that both Abaye and Rava were stringent upon themselves when it came to muktzeh, as they were important people where one may learn from them. Rabbi Zecharya was a very important person, he should have been stringent upon himself and not remove the pits by hand. The reason why he was not stringent was due to his humility. He did not see himself as an important person and did not worry that people will learn from him what is allowed and what is not allowed.
So it is here in Hilchos Muktzeh where we see as well the humility of Rabbi Zecharya. We see that he did not view himself as others viewed him, as he did not worry that people may learn from his actions in muktzeh. In the same way, he did not see why it would be beneficial to allow others to answer the question of Bar Kamtza before he did. This is why Reb Yose concludes that the humility of Rabbi Zecharya destroyed the Bais Hamikdash.