acharei mos and kedoshim

This Shabbos we read Parshas Acharai Mos and Kedoshim. In Parshas Kedoshim, the Torah discusses many of the most basic and important ethical commandments that are contained in the Torah. Among them is the famous prohibition not to take revenge from or bear a grudge to your fellow Jew (Leviticus 19:18). For example, let’s say that Michael asks his friend David to lend him his lawn mower. David says, “No”. The next day, David’s lawn mower breaks. David now comes to Michael and asks if he can borrow his lawn mower. If Michael refuses, he has transgressed the prohibition of taking revenge. If Michael agrees to lend the lawn mower to David, but mentions to him “You know I am lending this to you, unlike some other people who don’t lend their things” he has transgressed the prohibition of bearing a grudge.

The Chizkuni asks, why is it that the Torah only gives a prohibition to Michael, for his behavior to David, but not to David for not lending the item to Michael in the first place?

In a beautiful insight, he explains that when David refuses to lend his lawn mower to Michael, he is being a stingy person. While the Torah encourages us to be generous and kind hearted, it does not force us to do kindness and lend our possessions against our will. On the other hand, when Michael refuses to lend his lawn mower to David, he does so out of hatred. This is absolutely prohibited. Therefore, the Torah instructs us to remove the hatred from our heart and to plant there love instead.

In truth, this is a very hard thing for a person to do. As the Messilas Yeshorim writes, revenge is “sweeter than honey.” How can we expect every single Jew to avoid taking revenge or bearing a grudge?

In truth, the absolute essence of Judaism can be seen in this commandment. When we are affected by the actions of someone else, we tend to ascribe what has happened to us to the mortal being who has affected us. Whether it is a favor bestowed upon us, or harm inflicted upon us, we look at the person who has done this do us as the cause of what has happened.

Judaism teaches us that this is absolute falsehood. In truth, nothing happens to a person in this world, unless Hashem has decreed it to be so from above. When someone bestows a favor upon us they must be thanked. However, they are being thanked for their good wishes and their intentions. In truth, the real source of what has come to us is the Almighty. So too, if something bad happens to us, we must realize that the person who was the immediate source of this was no more than an agent. The true source of what happened is Hashem. While they may be punished for their bad intentions, to bear a grudge or to take revenge is simply to misunderstand the true cause of what happened to us.

This, the commentaries explain, is the gateway to removing those feelings of anger, resentment, and hatred that can come to us in these situations. The realization that “It was meant to be”, and that “This too is for the Best”, can only come when we recognize that there is a Director who is directing everything that happens in our life. When we realize that, we have a chance to find peace, contentment, and happiness in all the details of our life. With this understanding we can hope to avoid the traps of anger and hatred that come with desires to take revenge and to bear a grudge.