Is it acceptable to celebrate the downfall of our enemies? “BiNefol O’yivcha Al Tismach, UViKashlo Al Yageil Libecha,” “Don’t be happy when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles don’t celebrate” (Mishlei 24:17), seems to imply that it is clearly wrong. However, another Pasuk in Mishlei states, “…Avod Resha’im Rinah,” “When the wicked perish, there will be joy” (11:10), which seemingly contradicts the other Pasuk! How are we to resolve these contradictory statements?
One answer focuses on a nuance in the text and the fact that there are different types of adversaries. The Pasuk in Mishlei Perek 24 speaks of an Oyeiv, an enemy, which may be no more than the subject of a personal vendetta. In this case, Sefer Mishlei instructs readers, “Al Tismach” – do not be joyful at these rivals’ demises. On the other hand, the Pasuk in Perek 11 speaks of “Resha’im,” objectively evil people. One should rejoice over the downfall of such despicable people.
An alternative answer can be found in this week’s Parashah, in which we read about the Shalosh Regalim, the three Jewish pilgrimage holidays. The Torah writes regarding the Regel of Pesach, “BaYom HaRishon Mikrah Kodesh… BaYom HaShevi’i Mikrah Kodesh,” “The first day will be holy… the seventh day will be holy” (VaYikra 23:7-8). This commandment seems redundant as it was already commanded to Bnei Yisrael before they left Egypt. Before leaving Egypt, the Jews are commanded, “UVaYom HaRishon Mikrah Kodesh… UVaYom HaShevi’i Mikrah Kodesh,” “And the first day will be holy, and the seventh day will be holy” (Shemot 12:16). The Meshech Chochmah asks why God informs Bnei Yisrael about the sanctity of the seventh day of Pesach, which commemorates the splitting of the sea, before it is split? He explains that Hashem was concerned that if He would wait until after the splitting of the sea to inform the Jews about the holy nature of the seventh day of Pesach, they might think that the holiday is celebrating how innumerous Egyptians drowned trying to cross the Yam Suf. In order to put this false notion to rest, God informed Bnei Yisrael of the sanctity of the seventh day of Pesach before the Egyptians drowned. In doing so, God also impressed upon Bnei Yisrael that Jews do not rejoice over the death of their enemies. Instead, our celebrations focus on our own salvation. Additionally, it is for this reason that Purim is celebrated on the 14th and 15th of Adar, and not on the 13th, since the 13th was the day in which we killed our enemies, and only on the 14th and 15th did the Jews have a chance to rest and rejoice in their freedom. As Jews, we do not celebrate our ability to exact vengeance on our enemies. Our joy focuses on the ability to overcome obstacles and live a peaceful existence.
When we, as a people and society at large, are able to focus our appreciation on the world becoming a more peaceful and joyful place, and not on the downfall of our enemies, that is something truly worth celebrating.