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Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim (5773)

Torah Therapy

There are two verses in Parshas Kedoshim, the second of this week’s double Torah portion, in which the Torah guides us as to the proper response we should have when someone wrongs us.

In Leviticus 19:17, the Torah commands us: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”. Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Deios 6:5), explains that the Torah only warns us against hating “in our hearts”. However, a person who hurts a colleague or insults him, although he is not permitted to do so, does not violate the prohibition, "you shall not hate."

He writes further that when one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as it states concerning the wicked: "And Avshalom did not speak to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Avshalom hated Amnon" (II Samuel 13:22). Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: "Why did you do this to me?", "Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?" as the Torah states (at the end of the verse in Leviticus 19:17): "You shall surely admonish your colleague."

In the very next verse the Torah warns us: “You shall not take revenge and you should not bear a grudge against the members of your people”.

Maimonides writes (in Hilchos Deios 7:7) that even though revenge is not punished by the courts, it is a very bad trait. Instead, a person should train himself to rise above his feelings about all worldly things, for men of understanding consider all these things as vanity and emptiness which are not worth seeking revenge for. He should not even bear a grudge, for as long as he brings the matter to mind and remembers it, there is the possibility that he will seek revenge. Therefore, the Torah condemned holding a grudge, requiring one to wipe the wrong from his heart entirely, without remembering it at all.

Rashi, in his commentary to the Torah, quotes the Talmud in Yoma 23a, which clarifies the twin prohibitions of taking revenge and bearing a grudge:

What is meant by taking revenge? A person's colleague asks him, "Lend me your sickle. He responds, "I refuse to lend it to you." On the following day, the person who refused needs to borrow an ax from his colleague. He asks him: "Lend me your ax." The latter responds, "Just as you did not lend to me, I will not lend to you." This constitutes revenge.

What is meant by bearing a grudge? A person's colleague asks him, "Lend me your ax. He responds, "I refuse to lend it to you." On the following day, the person who refused needs to borrow a sickle from his colleague. He says to him, “Here it is for you; I am not like you, who did not lend me!” - this constitutes “bearing a grudge,” for he keeps the hatred in his heart, even though he does not take revenge.

Rabbi Dov Beirush Gottlieb ZT”L, in his little-known commentary to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah called Yad HaKetanah, asks a fundamental question on the verses mentioned above:

How can the Torah ask a person to refrain from taking revenge or even bearing a grudge when wronged by his fellow man? Don’t we find countless places in the Torah where G-d commands someone who damaged his friend’s person or property or stole from him to pay back what he damaged or stole – instead of just asking the victim to forget it ever happened and to remove any resentment from his heart?

Furthermore, it is hard to understand how the Torah can ask a person to not even bear a grudge for something bad that was done to him? It seems unfair and unnatural and way too much to ask from people who were seriously wronged!

I will add another question: When you think about it, the verse that prohibits hating your fellow Jew and the verse that prohibits bearing a grudge actually contradict each other!

In the first verse, the Torah seems to legitimize the feelings of hatred and resentment that a person might feel towards someone who wronged him. It just warns him not to keep those feelings inside his heart but instead to force himself to approach his friend and ask him for an explanation or an apology. Whereas in the second verse the Torah commands us not to have any feelings of hatred and resentment at all, and instead to just forget that anything ever happened. Which is it?

The Yad HaKetanah answers that - as is the answer to most things in life - it depends. It depends on what type of wrong was done to the person.

If it was an outright damage or theft or personal injury or any other such wrongful activity, then of course one is allowed to feel hatred and resentment towards the one who perpetrated the injustice.

The Torah would never command a person to forget about and totally remove from his heart any trace of resentment that he might feel towards someone who genuinely hurt him. Maybe Tzaddikim (very righteous Jews) can be expected to do such things, but certainly not the average Jew. However, it does instruct him not to keep those feelings of resentment inside for too long, as this can be detrimental to his emotional and physical welfare. As well, the Torah wants him to approach the person who wronged him so as to give him a chance to either explain his actions or to apologize for them.

Refusing to lend one’s neighbor a gardening tool is a whole different story. In this case, the person who refused did not necessarily commit a wrongdoing. For although the Torah commands us in a general sense to do chesed and kindness with our fellow man, there are many legitimate and understandable reasons why a person wouldn’t lend out his possessions. He could be worried that they will not cared for properly and might get broken. Or maybe he is a bit stingy with what he owns. Or maybe he just lost his job - or his marriage - and is in a deep depression … or a gazillion other reasons why he didn’t lend you his garden tool, none of which are about you or worth getting all heated over. .

In effect, the Torah is teaching us with this commandment that in such cases where it is not a clear wrongful act, we should try our best to forget about what happened and to rid our hearts of any resentment. For if we get upset and angry every time someone refuses to lend us his ax – or ignores us when we say hello to him on the street – then our heads and minds will soon be filled with so much resentment and umbrage (in Yiddish they call it broy-gess) that we will have no room left for anything else – and we will have no life.

So there you have it, folks - the Torah’s two-pronged therapy for dealing with those who wrong us. If we are legitimately hurt, then we have a right to be upset, but we should make sure not to keep those feelings inside for too long. Instead, we should approach the one who hurt us and ask for an explanation or an apology. And if it is not a serious wrongdoing, but more of the “garden-tool” variety, then we are coached by the Torah not to fill our heads with all that anger and resentment – but instead to just let it go for our own good.

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