Vengeance

There is an article called, “The Revenge We Are Waiting For” on The Jewish Press, an interesting read by Shmuel Sackett. I appreciate Mr. Sackett’s intention and desires, but I would like to respectfully disagree with him on his approach. I believe that a thorough analysis of this article could glean a lot of wisdom and insight on an uncomfortable topic that Judaism has much to say about: revenge. Though my commentary will obviously be a spoiler, I do encourage you to read the piece and leave your thoughts below.

Shmuel Sackett brings up the following examples in reference to the concept of revenge, especially during the time of the High Holidays: “In the famous tefilla said on both Rosh Ha’Shanah and Yom Kippur; ‘Ata Hu Elokenu’ – we list a tiny sample of HaShem’s attributes… The list (translated by ArtScroll) contains ‘pure of eyes’ and that ‘His raiment is charity’ and how HaShem is ‘righteous and fair’…’He is garbed in vengeance.’ Imagine that… vengeance being a virtue…” 

The author continues to quote the famous prayer Avinu Malkeinu: “‘Our Father, our King, avenge – before our eyes – the spilled blood of Your servants’…Not only are we asking for HaShem to take revenge… but we are asking that He let us see it!”

One’s first impression is that this author is suggesting something that hardly any Jew living in the modern, gentile west would be able to accept: that Hashem should take revenge on those who persecuted us. However, the author does a 180, “What is the best revenge? …We want Israel to be strong economically and militarily. We want the country to grow, expand and build on every square inch of land…We want Jews to come home from the four-corners of the globe…Most importantly, we want Eretz Yisrael to be the source of Torah…where the Torah is not just studied, but is the way of life! That is the revenge we want!”

Most readers after reading this article breathed a sigh of relief. They have received a cushy, fluffy message: success is the best revenge. That’s something we can jive with in the modern world, right? Let me be clear: I like the message. In fact, the author is right; one day, when Mashiach will come, all these things that the author writes about will come to fruition, with Hashem’s help! However, there is a critical element missing, an element that the piece refuses to look at: revenge as Hashem defines it. 

I once heard that Jewish people have generally been much more peaceful than Christendom. Why? Because our book is filled with violence, with Hashem’s wrath and judgment, and theirs is filled with fluffy concepts like acceptance of the sinner. 

We must have a healthy outlook on life. To paraphrase Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), there is a time for peace, a time for war, a time for mercy, and a time for judgment. When we fail to look at the holistic approach to life presented by Hashem in the Torah, we draw an imaginary world that is easily shattered, and as such, falls into chaos. 

The essence of this article is what is called “Saulism,” a term used by Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”l. For a bit of background, King Saul, the first king of Israel, was commanded by Hashem to destroy the nation of Amalek. Amalek is characterized by its irrational hatred of Jews. Saul had mercy on the Amalekites and he did not destroy them all as Hashem had commanded. “‘Saulism’ is this inability to accept the standards of mercy and cruelty that G-d has laid down. AS G-D HAS LAID THEM DOWN. The inability to accept the yoke of heaven because of personal views and concepts that are at odds with the Torah… Let it never be forgotten that Saul, according to tradition, was a great scholar, av bet din of the Sanhedrin. This did not prevent him from sadly falling into the sin of following his own views and concepts and ideas concerning morality and ethics. He defied the L-rd, refused to bend to the yoke of heaven, because his heart and mind were shaped by other views” (Kahane on the Parsha, 2015).

 The article concluded on a feel-good note. The feel good note, however, distorted Hashem’s desire for revenge, perhaps so that the Jewish people do not receive disdainful stares. The intentions are good; and it is not even that he is wrong – he is right; when Mashiach comes, we will be successful and our enemies will cease to exist. But Hashem explains that there will be vengeance, there will be revenge. On Shabbat we read that Hashem will forgive the nations for their evil deeds, but not for the spilling of Jewish blood. The prophesies do not paint a pretty picture leading up to Mashiach. There will be a cleansing of evil. The article is trying to say that we are above revenge. Hashem cannot possibly want revenge! That just seems immature. Yet “it is precisely the Saulists of our time…that bring G-d down to man’s level because they pervert Torah and create it in their image. They… find it spiritually impossible to accept Torah values that are at such odds with what they call humanism. It is THEY who drag Torah and G-d down to THEIR level, and it is precisely those Jews who accept the Torah commandments without hesitation and queasiness of soul and intellect who raise themselves to His level.” (Kahane on the Parsha, 2015)

So then, what is Hashem’s will? Hashem wills peace, but Jewish peace – not a fake peace in which evil and good can coexist. Evil and good cannot coexist. Evil is a chillul Hashem, a desecration of His name; allowing it to exist is a sin. 

Let us learn then what real peace is. To whom did Hashem give the covenant of peace to? Pinchas! In case that name rings a bell, let me remind you of his story. As we were wandering in the desert, the Midianites wanted to take a jab at the Jewish people. What did they do? Their women seduced our men in order to then entice us into idol worship. And our men fell for it. Worst of all, one of the princes of Israel fell for it, and not in a particularly discreet way. Pinchas proceeded to stab the prince of Israel together with the Midianite woman in the middle of their disgusting act. 

And this is the man who is given the covenant of peace?! In the proper definition of peace, yes, “The first step towards this goal (of peace) is the uprooting of evil and evil-doers from the world. ‘Sur M’Rah’ – turn from evil, or remove evil – this is the first step in making the world a better place…Peace is not the mixing of good and evil and the attempt to create a coexistence between them…There is no coexistence between good and evil, nor is there partnership between good people and evil people!” (Kahane on the Parsha, 2015).

In Hebrew, the word for peace comes from the word “Shalem” which also means wholeness. The world is whole when it reflects Hashem’s desire. As long as evil dwells in this world, Hashem is being pushed away from this world and there can be no peace. When evil co-exists with good, evil prevails, and Hashem hates evil. Pinchas’ grandfather, Aaron the Kohen, was known as a lover of peace, and yet he was not given the covenant of peace. Why? It was Pinchas who understood that in order to bring peace, to bring truth, to bring good, to invite Hashem’s love and mercy, one must not only love peace, but he must hate and eradicate evil. It is a necessary pre-requisite to bring the peace and love of Hashem our Maker that we all long for. 

The message of the article is hopeful. Rather than criticizing the article, I want to use it as a base to add on an important lesson: Hashem put us into this world to complete a mission. He gives us a blueprint for this mission, the Torah. We must strive to not add or subtract from the Torah, neither from its commandments, nor from its intentions, as best we can, with G-D’s help, no matter how much we disagree or even agree with it, no matter how much outside values attempt to influence us. Yes, Hashem can eradicate all evil in an instant. But He created the world and mankind in order to have a genuine, real relationship, not a relationship in which He does all the work and we sit back. 

Hoping for a miracle, that Hashem will do all the hard work for us without our blood, sweat, and tears is denying Hashem’s purpose for creating mankind. Our sages tell us that we should not hope for miracles. Hashem performs miracles all the time, all around us. Every breath we take is a miracle. The more we connect to Hashem’s Torah, the more we understand that every moment is a miracle. To pray for a revealed miracle (i.e. splitting of the sea) is to show Hashem that we do not appreciate all that he constantly does for us, and that we do not accept the responsibilities that He gives us. 

When Hashem says that He is garbed with vengeance, that revenge will be taken on the nations for spilling Jewish blood, it means exactly what He says: revenge will be taken according to His will. He will do a majority of the work, as He does with everything. And we must accept that this is His will, to destroy evil, to take revenge on those who spilled Jewish blood. But as long as humanity, and in particular we the Jewish people, act like Saul and shy away from responsibility, judging Hashem based on our standards and not His, the world will not be ready for peace. We must be ready to acknowledge and accept Hashem’s will and take on our responsibilities the way Pinchas did, so that we too may be given the covenant of peace. May the day come speedily, G-D willing, that evil will be removed from Hashem’s creation, and we will be ready for Mashiach, for the revealing of Hashem’s kingship. 

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