Parshios Matos & Masei
Vengeance: Revenge is Sweet
There is the obligation that a Jew is commanded not to take revenge.
Moreover, he must not bear a grudge or even harbour animosity against a
fellow Jew who has harmed him (See Leviticus 19:18).
The laws of nekama, revenge have no bearing on the Jewish nation defending
themselves against their enemies or their battle against the forces of
evil perpetrated against them. In our parsha, the Children of Israel
attacked Midyan for having earlier dispatched maidens that led the
Israelites into adultery and the idolatry of Baal Peor. (See Numbers 31:2-
The revenge outlawed in the Torah relates to the passionate desire where
man sets out to take retaliatory action to “get even”. He wants to avenge
what he perceives to be an earlier miscarriage of justice. If so, what is
so reproachable with exacting revenge?
Revenge is, indeed, so sweet (See Mesillas Yeshorim Ch.11).
Man cannot tolerate unfairness and inequality. He pines for justice and
for the perpetrator of evil to have his due comeuppance. But when a person
suffers mistreatment at the hands of others, the Torah duly obliges him to
control his emotions. How can he do this successfully?
G-d alone is the arbitrator of Absolute justice. And it lies outside man’s
complete jurisdiction and implementation. One thing is certain: we do not
know His grand Masterplan. Because He runs and controls the world, we have
the assurance of divine providence in the “end result” of what happens.
But the “means” of how this comes about – now, that is a separate and
unrelated issue that should not be his focus.
So if someone wrongs me, say, by taking a stone and giving me a black eye –
my attacker is obviously held accountable for his actions before G-d. But
as far as the action of what transpired is concerned, (in this example: my
black eye), the result itself had been divinely ordained. In this light,
the perpetrator is just one of G-d’s many messengers. He is merely
the “tool” to fulfill something. But he is “not” the cause of my state; G-
Would there be any point taking revenge against the stone? Of course not.
So too, there is no good or purpose to focus on the thrower. This is
because, in so doing, the avenger would be acting like an idolater, in the
sense that he is viewing forces in creation as autonomous and is not
tracing them all the way back to their Source: to G-d
Accordingly, true faith in G-d abrogates any human need to take revenge.
He is in control. Only with a wanton disregard for His divine providence
will man come to arrogantly take matters into his own hands. Instead, the
Jew should not trespass in G-d’s domain; He Alone is “the King Who loves
righteousness and judgment” (Weekly Amidah).
Accordingly, the rightful context vengeance appears in conjunction with G-
d: G-d proclaims “Vengeance belongs to Me” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Sandwiched
between two names of G-d – “O G-d of vengeance, Hashem, O G-d of
vengeance, appear!” (Psalms 94:1) – He alone promises to deliver justice
to this world.
He adopts the persona of a Vengeful G-d (see Deuteronomy 32:43) to punish
His enemies – in the blessing after the Purim Megillah: “Who takes up our
grievances, judges our claim, avenges our [Israel’s] wrong”. This revenge
as in the campaign against Midyan means reversing the infraction against G-
d, His chosen nation and desecration of His Name. The Heavenly Judge
dispenses justice onto His subjects so the wicked are punished so
that “the righteous shall rejoice when he sees vengeance” (Psalms 58:11).
However the Jew himself resists tasting the sweet taste of revenge.
Rather, he should mollify his wrath to view the wider picture wherein the
Creator supervises and directs events in this world by proclaiming his
complete trust in G-d.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.