“Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (the incident in which a party host refused entry to a man named Bar Kamtza, and humiliated him in front of all present), Jerusalem was destroyed.” (Gittin 55b)
The event had been weeks in the planning. The sheva brachot for his nephew would be attended by numerous wealthy friends and family, and Mr. Kimchi was leaving nothing to chance. “Tasteful, yet not overdone” cooed Mrs. Kimchi, as she instructed the event planner. The resulting arrangement was only mildly ostentatious.
Finally, the night of the event arrived. Mr. Kimchi eagerly greeted his well-dressed guests, and showed them to their seats. Mr. Kimchi’s eyes were drawn to the doorway, as another guest arrived. Why was this guest different from all other guests? Rabbi Sasson was an accomplished Torah scholar. It wasn’t just that, though. His manner of dress, in keeping with his general lifestyle, was so… modest! His clothing was nothing like the well-to-do individuals who comprised the remainder of the guest list.
Mr. Kimchi hurried to seat Rabbi Sasson at the table. Another friend of Mr. Kimchi arrived. Mr. Kimchi indicated the seat next to Rabbi Sasson, and called out “come here, and sit next to the donkey!”
The light chatter which had filled the room stopped abruptly. Many guests suddenly found great interest in examining their fingernails. Others chose to focus on the decorative napkin arrangements. A minute passed, and another guest walked in. Mr. Kimchi again made his magnanimous offer, as he pointed to the seat on the other side of Rabbi Sasson, and invited the newcomer to sit next to the donkey.
Somehow, all present made it through the event. The next morning, Rabbi Sasson went to the local Bet Din and stated that he would like to call Mr. Kimchi to a Torah judgment. When Mr. Kimchi and Rabbi Sasson were both standing before the judges, Rabbi Sasson explained that Mr. Kimchi had greatly embarrassed him, in front of all of the sheva brachot attendees.
“Of course, I didn’t mean to insult you!” explained Mr. Kimchi. “I was alluding the verse in the Torah, which states that the tribe of Yisachar is compared to a donkey, because they are great Torah scholars, and carry the burden of Torah! I’m sorry that you took offence, but I had no intention to embarrass you!”
Who is correct? Can we rely on Mr. Kimchi’s assertion that he only meant to honor Rabbi Sasson, when he called the rabbi a donkey?
Answer of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l:
It all depends on the assessment of the Bet Din. If it is apparent to the judges that Mr. Kimchi was simply trying to honor Rabbi Sasson in an original way, then Mr. Kimchi’s version of the story can be trusted. If the judges see that it is evident that Mr. Kimchi did not intend to refer to the above-mentioned verse, then Mr. Kimchi is obligated to compensate Rabbi Sasson for the embarrassment caused. The Mahari Brona (siman 203) cites a similar question, and this is his ruling. Everything depends on the assessment of the judges, as to the true intention of Mr. Kimchi.
(This responsa comes from the book Kav V’naki)