Your child is playing on the beach with his friend making a sand castle. He makes the most magnificent edifice with four towers, a moat of water and great structures. After four hours of hard work, he runs to tell you about it. As you both stare at the wonderful sand castle, his ‘friend’ goes over and by mistake steps on it crushing it down. It’s left in ruins and your son yells out a cry of anguish.
What is your reaction to your son? You feel for him, but at the end of the day, the castle wasn’t going to last forever. These things come and go, and anyway, before long you would be going back to your home leaving it all behind. But the child doesn’t understand that. He thinks he has been wronged. He is furious at his friend and won’t let it go.
In this week’s Parasha we are taught: “You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself — I am Hashem” (19:18).
How do you view revenge?
There is a famous story recounting the words of an American politician, Senator Henry Clay, made to his antagonist Virginia’s John Randolph, right before their infamous duel in April of 1826.
The two were walking towards each other on a narrow footpath with little room to pass. One would have to give way. “I never make room for scoundrels,” sneered Randolph. “I always do,” Clay smiled as he stepped off the paved path to let Randolph pass!
Of course there is a lot more to learn here.
What does the Torah mean, “You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge,” what is the difference?
Rashi explains: If Moshe says to David “Lend me your sickle”, and David replies, “No!”, and the next day David says to Moshe, “Lend me your hatchet”, and Moshe retorts, “I am not going to lend it to you, just as you refused to lend me your sickle” – this is avenging; and what is “bearing a grudge”? Rashi continues. “If Moshe says to David, “Lend me your hatchet”, and David replies “No!” and on the next day David says to Moshe “Lend me your sickle”, and Moshe replies “Here it is; I am not like you, because you would not lend me your hatchet” – this is called “bearing a grudge” because he retains enmity in his heart although he does not actually avenge himself.”
Both revenge and bearing a grudge are Torah prohibitions.
But the Kli Yakar asks, why does the Torah specify Amecha –one is not allowed to do this to his people – i.e. specifically to another Jew. This implies that to a non-Jew this would be permitted? Is that really the case?
The Kli Yakar explains that we are not allowed to take revenge or bear a grudge on anyone. However the Torah is highlighting that when someone comes against you in a non-Jewish form and attacks your Neshama (soul) then you are allowed to and should bear a grudge. You have to feel the affront and defend your spirituality.
On physical matters, however, one should not feel an affront (Yuma 22b)…
The Kli Yakar brings the beautiful idea mentioned above of a child building; there is no point getting upset, after all, it’s only a temporary building.
Everything in the world is temporary, thus if someone acts unwittingly against another, they should not bear a grudge, they should realise everything is from Hashem, take it on their chest and move on.
How can someone be on such a level that although they are hurt physically, they don’t bare a grudge? Perhaps the answer lies within the story of the Kli Yakar himself.
Ephraim son of Aaron was born in the city of Luntschitz in what is today central Poland, around the year 1550. He studied under the famed Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luriah) and became Rabbi of the city of Lvov where he served for 25 years.
From an early age he was recognized as a star orator and was renowned for his fiery sermons. In 1601, Rabbi Ephraim became deathly ill. During the course of his illness he added the name Shlomo to his name and thereafter signed his name Shlomo Ephraim. He also vowed that if he survived his illness he would compose a commentary to the Pentateuch.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim survived his illness and the very next year wrote and published his commentary, named Kli Yakar. The commentary became immediately popular throughout the Jewish world and was his most famous publication, to the point that he is now known simply as the Kli Yakar. More than 400 years later the Kli Yakar remains popular and is printed alongside the commentary of Rashi and many others in Chumashim.
The year after the Kli Yakar’s publication, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the great city of Prague, where he also served as Rosh Yeshiva and Head of the Beit Din. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim passed away in 1619. His son and other descendents followed in his footsteps, also holding the esteemed position of the Chief Rabbi of Prague. Amongst his most famous students was Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, also known as Tosfot Yom Tov.
The Kli Yakar’s father Aharon was once in trouble with the local count. He rented a place from him and had come across hard times, unable to pay the rent. He assured the count that by the end of the month he would be able to repay all his bills and more, but the count hated the Jews and took this as a good excuse to punish Aharon. He was thrown into an underground pit (cell) with his pregnant wife. They were left there without any food and immediately yelled to Hashem for help. Their prayers were answered shortly afterwards as one of the counts’ men, Yohan, had pity on them and fed them secretly.
Time passed by and the wife’s pregnancy advanced. She started to complain to her husband. What were they going to do? She begged her husband. But Aharon surprisingly put on a happy face and started to sing.
“We are going to die and you are singing?” she said.
Aharon replied, “I have faith in Hashem, all will be ok. He is with us even here in the low pit, everything is from Hashem.”
“Yes but I am about to give birth, and probably the baby will die, and maybe even me!” she exclaimed.
Aharon was troubled on the inside, but his faith prevailed and he prayed vehemently for their health and a good baby .He prayed hard and kept singing with faith that Hashem was in charge.
A few weeks later amazingly a healthy baby boy was born. The mother survived the terrible ordeal, and when Yohan was passing by he heard the screams of the baby. He was touched and approached the count to have mercy on them.
The count agreed, let them free, but took the baby for himself.
The child was raised in his house and he reached the age of 13 he started hearing voices at night – “you are a Jew run away.” At first he tried to ignore them. Then one day he went to Prague escorted as usual by two guards. He managed to lose them, and went to visit the Maharal of Prague. The Maharal of Prague took the child under his wing and this child grew up to be the Kli Yakar!
We can now understand where the Kli Yakar got his Peshat (understanding) in the above mentioned Pasuk.
His father had such faith in Hashem, he saw Hashem everywhere and in full control of events, realising that all that happens to us is from Him. With that kind of outlook we can understand the Torah’s command not to take revenge.
Everything in this world withers away, all the tough things thrown at us come from Hashem so what room is there for revenge?