In our parasha, Moshe Rabenu is about to leave this world, but God calls him for his last mission before he dies. “Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; (and) afterwards you will be gathered to your people.”
As a people of the modern world, who have learned to avoid any kind of aggressivity, how can we understand the concept of ‘Revenge’ that appears in several occasions in the Torah, as well as the Haggadah, Tehillim and other places in the Bible?
The answer is that revenge is not necessarily an act of physical violence. Revenge, sometimes, is an ambition that will never come true. Sometimes, we are exposed to the relatives of murder victims, who insultingly demand from the judges a harsher punishment for the vile murderers. That request will not bring their loved one back to life.
We can understand the concept of revenge as a need to restore the order.
Revenge is a need to see a world where evil is punished for his crime. Revenge is the inability to see the evil one breathe the free, fresh air without paying a price for his heinous act. Revenge is the intense, difficult expression of our deep need for a harmonious and moral world.
That is why perhaps Moses commands to restore the moral order, and to teach us for generations, that the war against evil and the wicked is not only legitimate – it is necessary. BUT we also must be aware of the side effects caused to the people who live their lives with bitterness, seeing every enemy as an evil, wishing to take revenge on him, for not treating them nicely or even worse humiliating them.
This kind of deep feeling of taking revenge is dangerous and forbidden.
The Torah ordered, as in Parasha Kedoshim, “don’t take revenge on your brother.”
So, when is revenge forbidden and when is it permitted? The answer is: In any PERSONAL occasions the revenge is for forbidden. The person must work on his negative and natural wish to seek revenge and learn to release his bitterness and bad feelings from himself.
Revenge is allowed just on occasions the Torah directs us explicitly to seek, and those occasions are related to events that involve defilement and disrespect of the honor of God. That is why today, we don’t have the tools to measure which cases require us to take action, and which cases not, so we must abstain and keep ourselves away from making any decisions, and we have to leave the judgment of the case in the hands of God. Exactly as we say every Wednesday in the prayer of Shaharit “El Nekamot Hashem” – God is the only one who will take the action of revenge, and he has lots of way how to charge the bill.
Rabbi Refael Cohen