“Don’t take Revenge” and “Don’t bear a Grudge”

Copyright (C) 1975 by Holy Beggars’ Gazette

Reprinted by permission of the Holy Beggars.
San Francisco, 5735.

Shlomo’s Teachings on Mitzva 242.

Transcribed by (Rabbi) Elana Rappaport (Schachter),
Reb Shlomo speaking.

  Now we come to the mitzvas “don’t take revenge” and “don’t bear a
The Rambam explains why I shouldn’t take revenge. Imagine
someone says, “I won’t let you use my phone.” I’m burning up inside.
Why didn’t he let me use his phone? Then I decide I have to take
revenge. Imagine my taking revenge would cost me ten million dollars.
Would I walk around collecting ten million dollars just because he
didn’t let me use his phone? It seems stupid, right? Imagine I would
know how much evil it does to my heart to take revenge, the ugliest
emotion. Is it worth it? Maimonides says that no matter what anyone
does to you, it is not worth it. You would be doing yourself much more
evil than he did to you. Taking revenge is corrupting yourself. It is not
worth it. Rambam says there is nothing in the world strong enough
that it should be worthwhile to you to corrupt yourself, to become
low enough to take revenge. If you have a little bit of sense, forget it,
be above it.

    Bearing a grudge is not taking revenge, but every thought takes up
space in my heart. You should have other things in your head than
remembering something someone did to you. The Rambam says the
only way people will ever be able to live together is if they forget bad things.

    Let’s go a little bit deeper. The holy Chinuch says we believe in
free choice. On one hand a person has free choice, so why get angry
at somebody else? He has his free choice too, but on a higher level
there is such a thing as divine providence. Despite my free choice of
action, what somebody else does to me is my divine providence. What
I do to you is completely free choice in my world, and I really
shouldn’t do anything wrong to you. If you do something wrong to me,
in my world it was divine providence. In your world it was free
choice, but in regard to me it was divine providence. Maimonides says
free choice and divine providence is something our minds cannot
understand, cannot grasp. The thin line between free choice and
divine providence is so fine that we cannot understand it. Here comes
the holy Raavad who challenges the Rambam: if you can’t understand,
how can you talk about it? Why do you put it in your book? Rambam
only writes things you can understand. Rambam says you can
understand with your head that you can’t understand, so he put it in.
The Raavad says it is so deep that you cannot even understand that
you don’t understand, so no use talking about it. According to
Maimonides it is within the realm of my mind that I can understand
that I cannot understand, but the Raavad says no, it’s so far beyond
this world that you cannot understand.

  What does this argument tell us about how we should act? I ask
someone to do me a favor and let me make a phone call. He says I can’t.
What should my reaction be? My reaction should be that most likely,
I’m not supposed to make the phone call now. The person was only a
little messenger from G-d saying, “don’t make the phone call.” So, if I
really believed in G-d, then I would say, “Thank you for delivering the
message.” In my world there is nothing that can stop me, I have so
much free choice. If I want to, I can break all the barriers of the
world, but when it comes to someone else, there’s nothing I can do. I
can only have free choice to act myself. The moment I have to deal
with someone else, there is such a thick wall, there is nothing I can
do. Therefore the holy Chinuch says that you should not take revenge
because if you hold anger against someone, that means you didn’t believe it was G-d.

    The truth is, in a certain deep way the time for free choice is over
at this point. I have choice in my own private world, but I don’t have
choice whether to be a Jew or not. I just don’t, because I am. If I
violate my free choice I am destroying my whole soul; I make myself
into a cripple. Reb Nachman says there are two kinds of evil. One is
when I want to give charity, and my evil comes and says, “don’t give.”
Then there is general evil which is not concentrated against any
specific action or thing. It is concentrated against my being what I am
supposed to be. This evil doesn’t mind what I do. “Do anything you want
to be holy. Be Holy, who cares? just don’t be what you have to be,
because this is deeper than any thing in the world.” Evil is trying to
stop every person from being what he is supposed to be. “Don’t be a
Jew. Even if you want to be what you are, don’t be real about it.” Evil
is holding out to the last strength, “just don’t be completely what you
have to be.” We have to cut off this evil.

by  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Posted in: Personal Growth