Parashat K’doshim

Friday, May 10, 2019 /5 Iyar, 5779
Parashat K’doshim Leviticus 19:1-20:27

Dear Friends,

What is the difference between taking vengeance and bearing a grudge?

The reason for the question is that our Torah, in its highest ethical code in Leviticus, the Holiness Code, gives this simple command, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge…” (Lev. 19:18) Thus, what is the meaning of these two, rather nuanced behaviors?

Rashi, our great medieval, French Torah commentator, also pondered this question, and he responded by giving a wonderful example and teaching which is found in the Talmud (Yoma 83a). Rashi wrote:

If one man says to another “Lend me your sickle,” and the latter says to him, “No,” and on the morrow the second man say to him, to the first, “Lend me your axe, “ and the first man says to him, “I will not lend it to you; just as you did not led it to me” – this is taking vengeance. And, what is “bearing a grudge?” If one says to another, “Lend me your axe,” and the latter says to him, “No,” and on the morrow the latter says to him, to the first, “Lend me your sickle,” and the first mans says to him, “Here it is. I am not like you who did not lend it to me” – this is bearing a grudge for he guards the hatred in his heart even though he does not take vengeance.

Essentially, Rashi teaches that both vengeance and grudges are reflections of inner hurt and hatred. The difference is that vengeance is getting even with a hurtful deed, tit-for-tat, while keeping a grudge is attitudinal. The former evens the score, and hurts another in some parallel fashion, while keeping a grudge allows the hurt to fester and continue, until, perhaps, a deed is committed.

In both circumstances, we are wise to be mindful of continuing, festering hurts and upsets.  I dare say most if not all of us have them, though sometimes they may be tucked away, quiescent and dormant for a long while, that we are almost lulled into thinking that the hurt has dissolved or dissipated. That is, until something arouses our upset, and the hurt, injury or insult is re-triggered and inflamed.  It is then that the potential for vengeance is prompted, and we are at risk of doing injury or hurt to another…

Thus, the wise admonition in the Torah, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge…” Torah knew that it is unfortunate and bad enough that a first, initial hurt was done; best not to compound it with further indiscretions due to a grudge, or even vengeance!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Doug Kohn