Tag Archives: revenge

Save Them From Falling

You shall make a fence to your roof … so that the falling person should not fall therefrom.

Deuteronomy 22:8

Rashi notes the unusual term “the falling person should not fall” and explains that even though the person who may be injured may be “a falling person,” i.e. someone who merited punishment for wrongs he or she had committed, nevertheless, you should not be the vehicle for punishment.

Some people act in a hostile manner toward a certain person, even going so far as to condemn him and cause him harm. They may justify their behavior by saying, “Why, that no good … do you know what he did? He did this and that, and so he deserves to be tarred and feathered.”

The Talmud states that God uses good people to deliver rewards, but when punishment is warranted, He chooses people who themselves deserve punishment. Hence, it is not good to be a punitive instrument. The Torah cautions us not to intervene in Divine judgment. God’s system is adequate. We should take reasonable actions to protect our interests so that they are not harmed by others, but we should not take upon ourselves to mete out punishment.

The principle of fencing in a roof applies to every situation where someone else might come to harm as a result of something we did or did not do. Being a responsible person requires using reason. As the Talmud says, “A wise person is one who can foresee the future” (Tamid 32a). We don’t necessarily need prophetic foresight, just the ability to calculate what might result from our actions.

Today I shall…

be cautious to behave in such a manner that no one can come to harm as a result of my actions.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day,” Av 13

I’m sure every Christian would recognize the following where Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 32:35:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” –Romans 12:19 (ESV)

Of course, actually fulfilling that directive is easier said than done, particularly when we read stories such as, Sharp Decline in Terror Attacks After Bin Laden Death. I don’t think there are too many people who didn’t think Bin Laden deserved what he got, but should we be cheerful and feel justified that such an evil man was assassinated?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I oppose the death of such a man, but as we are supposed to understand, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

Of course, that’s an extreme example and the vast majority of us aren’t in a position to participate in the assassination of a notorious mass murderer at any point in our lives. Frankly, I’m glad. Who’d want that kind of responsibility and the mental, emotional, and spiritual consequences that would result?

However, we are all in a position to “condemn and cause harm” to plenty of other people all of the time. No, not by causing actual death, but something like it.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. –Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

It seems that we can be guilty of “murder” every time we lose our temper at someone and condemn them in our thoughts, our feelings, and with our words. Even if the person “deserved it,” who made you and me an instrument of punishment? And if you want to believe Rashi’s midrash (and after all, it’s just a midrash), does that mean by making us such an instrument, God is saying that we too are deserving of punishment?

That’s a frightening thought. Even if God isn’t putting us in that position, by being critical, judgmental, and angry, we are putting ourselves in the “hot seat,” so to speak. Do we really want to sit there?

But what else can we do? After all, we are only human and “the flesh is weak.”

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. –Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

I recently saw some sort of Internet meme on Facebook that said when a religious person hurts another human being, they spend the time apologizing to God that an atheist would spend apologizing to the person they hurt. Jesus shows us this meme is (or should be) exactly wrong. We have a responsibility when we’ve misjudged another (or even apparently when we’ve correctly but harshly judged another) of setting aside our prayers to God and to apologize to the person first. Then we can approach God in prayer with an open heart.

But according to Rabbi Twerski’s understanding of the Talmud, it goes beyond simply apologizing after we’ve been critical. We must anticipate our behavior and take steps not to harm other people at all. This is like building the fence on the roof so the person cannot fall in the first place. We must consider what we could do or fail to do that could hurt another human being and then make sure we avoid those behaviors. We must be aware of other people and how they feel, be aware of ourselves, and most of all, be aware of God.

Or as Rabbi Twerski put it:

Today I shall…

be cautious to behave in such a manner that no one can come to harm as a result of my actions.

Inner lightWe must reflect the light of God and be honest and worthy disciples of our Master, for in reflecting the light of our Master, we too become a light of the world.

A mirror is simple. It has no shape or image of its own. If it did, it would not be able to reflect the image of other things. Simplicity is what makes a mirror a mirror.

Beyond our world is an Infinite Light, the origin of all that is. Relative to our world it is a nothingness. So simple and void, we feel as though we have no source at all. So formless, it is able to reflect whatever form we choose to show it from below. Try it. Look up and celebrate. The heavens will celebrate along with you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Do we reflect God or does God reflect us…or is it both?

If we are true disciples, we reflect the goodness and Holiness of who God is. If we are poor and malfunctioning disciples, the evil we do reflects on God’s reputation and the name of the Master of dragged through the mud, or worse.

Your choice.

Overcoming Humanity

It is human nature. When someone wrongs us, we want to retaliate. We are infuriated and hold onto memories of these “wrongs,” and when given the opportunity, we respond in kind.

Taking revenge is prohibited in Judaism.

Maimonides writes about revenge in his code of Jewish law:

Taking revenge is an extremely bad trait. A person should be accustomed to rise above his feelings about all worldly matters; for those who understand [the deeper purpose of the world] consider all these matters as vanity and emptiness, which are not worth seeking revenge for.” (Paraphrased from Mishneh Torah, De’ot 7:7.)

Rather, Maimonides continues, if someone who has wronged you comes to ask a favor, you should respond “with a complete heart.” As King David says in the Psalms, “Have I repaid those who have done evil to me? Behold, I have rescued those who hated me without cause”(Psalm 7:5).

In addition, Jewish law forbids us to bear a grudge. Thus, the Talmud explains, you may not even say to the person who wronged you that you will act rightly, even though he or she did not. (Talmud, Yoma, ibid.)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his code of Jewish law concludes that, “one should erase any feelings of revenge from one’s heart and never remind oneself of it.”(Shulchan Aruch Harav, end of 156:3 [in the new Kehot editions (2001) p. 393].)

-Dovid Zaklikowski
“What Does Judaism Say About Taking Revenge?”
Learning and Values

You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

I’m actually a lot more calm about this issue than I have been in previous days, but as I was studying this morning (as I write this), the topic came up and I thought I should continue with my commentary on the nature of human beings and our desire to strike back when someone causes us pain.

It’s difficult to not want to immediately hit back when someone does something to hurt or scare us. The sudden power surge of adrenaline hits our blood stream and our reflexes take over. The guy who cuts you off in traffic nearly hitting you, or the shock of someone accidentally bumping into you on the sidewalk and practically knocking you off your feet almost always produces a split second of tremendous emotion that we have to overcome with reason.

Of course, that isn’t really revenge as much as it is biochemistry. Once we get past the instant of emotion, we can stop ourselves before we go into a “road rage” or actually form a fist and hit the person who by now, is apologizing for walking into us and is trying to steady us on our feet. Revenge is longer lasting. Revenge is the desire to “get even” with whoever offended us and to, even days, weeks, or months later, make sure they “pay” for what they’ve done to us, whether the injury was real or imagined.

Here’s a classic Jewish example of revenge:

Taking revenge is when you ask someone, “Lend me your sickle,” and he says no. The next day he comes to you and asks you “Lend me your hatchet.” You respond, “I am not lending to you, just like you did not lend to me.”

This is an example of revenge.

—The Talmud, Yoma 23a

But revenge goes beyond what you actually do. It involves what you think and how you feel. How many people never actually “take revenge” but nurse it in their hearts, sometimes for years, letting it blacken not only that one relationship, but everything they are as a person, right down to the core of their soul?

Not taking revenge is not just about modifying one’s actual actions; it is also that the thought of revenge never even enter one’s heart. (See Rabbi Jonah Gerondi (1180-1263), Shaarei Teshuvah 3:38. See Nachmanides on Leviticus, ad loc.)


That’s a tall order. It’s one thing to not act on the desire to take revenge or to even eventually put feelings of revenge aside, but it’s something else entirely to never experience thoughts or feelings of revenge in the first place when it would be otherwise expected to do so.

On the surface, the literal commandment we see in Leviticus 19:18 seems to address not acting on feelings of revenge and not carrying a grudge forward in time after the event, but how can you not have such thoughts and feelings in the first place? Zaklikowski’s response is this:

The verse prohibiting revenge ends with the famous maxim, “You should love your fellow as yourself.” Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, “Nachmanides,” explains that erasing the event from your heart will guarantee that you will never come to transgress the commandment, allowing you to love your fellow, no matter what transpires between the two of you. (Igeret HaKodesh, Epistle 25.)

As I said before, that’s a tall order. It would mean that we would have to harbor love in our hearts for others as a matter of course and to learn to habitually forgive those who have wronged us. These are qualities that go beyond normal human experience, emotion, and reason. These are the lessons we learn from God and are the results of a life lived in faith.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Plato

What would the world look like if we all internalized these lessons into our beings and committed to responding to our environment in this way all of the time?

When you look at a human being, you see his hands working, his feet walking, his mouth talking. You don’t see his heart, his brain, his lungs and kidneys. They work quietly, inside. But they are the essential organs of life.

The world, too, has hands and feet — those who are making the news and effecting change. The heart, the inner organs, they are those who work quietly from the inside, those unnoticed. Those who do a simple act of kindness without knowing its reward.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Inside Workers”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. –1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)