A Reasonable Demand?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
‘Do not take revenge and do not harbor resentment against your brother, you shall love your brother as yourself, I am God.’ According to our Rabbi’s the interpretation of this Mitzvah is straightforward. If someone harms or upsets us in some way we are commanded to avoid taking revenge and to remove resentment from our hearts.
The typical scenario highlighted by our sages is the following ‘Revenge is such a case: When one comes to the other, and asks him to lend a sickle to him, he says: No. The next day, the second comes to the first, and wants to borrow an axe. He answers: I do not wish to lend to you, as you have not lent to me. This is called revenge. When one comes to another, and asks him to loan him an axe, and does not get it. The next day the second comes to the first, and wants to borrow a shirt. He answers: I lend it to you, because I am not like you, who did not want to lend to me yesterday. This is called bearing a grudge.’
Whilst this sounds wonderful in a utopian existence, this must certainly rank as amongst the most difficult Mitzvoth to fulfill. Someone acts in what we perceive to be a mean spirited way, and we are required to not only avoid revenge but also to ensure we do not bear a grudge? Is this a reasonable demand?
Maimonides in Mishneh Torah(Hilchot De’ot 7,7-8) sheds some light on this issue. He states that ‘it is fitting for a person to forgo ones absolute rights when it comes to matters of this world, because ultimately all worldly things are futile and of no real significance and are not worth taking revenge over.’ Maimonides is sharing with us an attitude which makes the fulfillment of this Mitzvah possible. In his view the Torah is commanding us to develop a particular attitudinal approach to life. When someone does something to offend us in some way, our Ego’s are bruised and we naturally enter attack mode. What they have done to us consumes us and takes on cosmic significance in our minds. We spend hours plotting sweet revenge, and harboring resentment and anger in our hearts. We so often end up ruining our own peace of mind far more than the aggressor did. Maimonides states that much of this unnecessary anguish can be avoided by asking ourselves a simple question: Is this really significant and important in my life? Considering the really important things like health, our families and spiritual attainment, does this really matter? Is their value in giving it my energy and attention?
Worldly, material matters which are temporary and transient by their very nature should be seen as trivial. Spirituality, service of God, virtues of kindness and charity should be at the forefront of our consciousness. According to Maimonides cultivating this attitude enables us to fulfill our mandate of ‘Do not take revenge and do not harbor resentment.’ We are being asked to distinguish the ‘important and meaningful’ from the ‘unimportant and trivial’ – a reasonable request indeed!