Attitudes toward Adversaries by Isaac Shulman


In this week’s Parashah, the Torah tells us that we cannot take revenge against another person. The Pasuk states, “Lo Tikom VeLo Titor Et Bnei Amecha,” “You shall not take revenge or bear a grudge” (VaYikra 19:18). It is a widely accepted belief that revenge is bad and that if you do in fact take revenge, you are doing the wrong thing. However, what actually makes revenge so bad? After all, someone else wronged you and potentially harmed you! Why, then, does the Torah view it as so unreasonable for you to “get even” with the person who harmed you?

        The Pasuk itself hints to the answer. At the end of the Pasuk, Hashem feels a strange urge to remind us, “Ani Hashem,” “I am Hashem.” We certainly know that it is Hashem who is giving us all of the commandments in this Parashah and in all of the Torah. Why, then, does Hashem remind us specifically here? The Torah is teaching us that the real reason why revenge is bad is that it shows a lack of Bitachon, trust, in Hashem. By taking revenge, a person essentially denies Hashem’s role in giving Sechar and Onesh for Mitzvot and Aveirot, respectively. However, if one merely accepts the wrong that a person does to him and does not take revenge, then that person has shown that he trusts that Hashem will take care of the problem and that he need not worry that the harmer will not be punished. It is not that the person did not do something wrong and therefore deserves punishment, it is just that one must recognize that he or she is not in charge of giving punishment and therefore must not take revenge.

        One of the first times we see a genuine opportunity for someone to exact revenge in the Torah is when Yosef is put in a position of complete authority over his brothers. Yosef reacts to this situation in a way that shows his understanding of the Torah’s view of revenge. When revealing himself to his brothers, Yosef tells them, “Ani Yosef Achichem Asher Mechartem Oti Mitzraymah,” “I am Yosef your brother whom you sold to Egypt” (BeReishit 45:5). Additionally, he tells them not to get angry over the fact that “they sold him.” Yosef openly tells his brothers that they did something wrong and they should feel that they did something wrong. It is clear that Yosef does not simply deny the fact that they sold him, but rather admits to it and says that it was part of Hashem’s plan. Therefore, Yosef represents perfectly the message of the Torah’s prohibition of revenge. It is not that the person who harmed another should just get off scot-free, but rather that it is not one’s job to make sure that the other gets punished. That is why Yosef can recognize the fact that his brothers wronged him and still harbor no hatred or desire to do them any harm. Yosef stresses the fact that Hashem was involved in the whole sale, and, by doing so, he shows his complete trust in Hashem. It is exactly because of his trust in Hashem that he is able to understand that he should in no way retaliate against his brothers.

This message is extremely important nowadays on a personal and religious level. Obviously, if someone harms you individually, that person has done the wrong thing, but that is no excuse to simply exact punishment against him. Doing so would merely show that you do not really believe that Hashem is fair and just and will punish the wrongdoer.

This is not to say that you should just ignore the wrong done against you personally or against the Torah. In fact, the Torah also sets up an entire system of punishment for wrongdoing through Beit Din. Beit Din’s punishment is different from revenge because Hashem grants Beit Din the right to punish; therefore, the actions of Beit Din are really the same as those of Hashem. They don’t lack any belief in Hashem because they are carrying out what Hashem wants. The actions of revenge and Beit Din’s punishment are not inherently different, but the intentions involved in revenge are not to carry out the will of Hashem under His authorization.

Similarly, there is a very delicate balance between rebuking someone who did something wrong and taking revenge. Right before the Torah gives the prohibition of revenge, it informs us of the commandment to rebuke our fellow Jews. When you are harmed by someone, you do need to rebuke that person, but you can’t make that into revenge. The intention of the rebuke needs to be to bring him closer to Hashem; therefore, rebuking demonstrates your Bitachon in Hashem. The Torah thus beautifully creates the contrast between rebuking for the sake of helping the other person and taking revenge in order to vent your anger. Therefore, you should not simply ignore things that people do to you and allow yourself to be “walked on,” since that too is not what the Torah expects of you. Rather, you should make sure to rebuke the other person without any personal anger toward the person. In that way, you can rebuke the other person and stop the harm that he or she is doing to you but also ensure that you carry it out in a way that Hashem desires.

-Adapted from a Devar Torah by Rabbi Shalom Rosner

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