Monday, January 1, 2007

Vayechi, 50:20 and the Haftarah. Revenge

Dovid Hamelech told Shlomo that he should take revenge from, in particular, Shimi ben Geiroh. R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz in his Sichos Mussar, Maamar 27, page 113, title “Nekama,” points out that it is surprising that David Hamelech decided that his last words, his tzava’a to his son Shlomo, should be such words. That the eponymous father of the line of royalty in Klal Yisrael, Malchus Beis David, who wrote Tehillim, whose every word bespeaks a supernal spirituality, should demand revenge seems extremely out of character.

He answers that this is not the revenge that naturally dwells in the human heart, which, he brings, the Mesillas Yeshorim describes as “sweeter than honey, but assur.” This is a different type of revenge which we find is not limited to punishing evil-doers, but whose goal is the “balancing of the scales.” He says that this type of revenge is done so that the chillul Hashem created when wickedness goes unpunished is reversed. Similarly, when goodness has gone unrewarded, ‘nekama’ can be the apt term to describe the reward given to the doer of good. Dovid wanted to reverse the chillul Hashem created when Shim’i ben Geiroh got away with a wicked act, but it was nothing personal.

(By the way, note that in the Parshah we also find the theme of nekamah– Yosef’s brothers were afraid that he would want to take nekamah, so they made up a story about Yaakov sending a message to Yosef that he should forgive them.)

When I said this drasha in Shul, I said I didn’t understand it. While I understand that you can view revenge as a way to balance the scale, it is strange to say that if done for personal satisfaction it is a grave sin, but if done l’sheim shomayim it’s a great mitzvah. Also, the natural human motive to take revenge is so powerful that it is next to impossible to say that it is assur until you purge yourself of emotion and take revenge l’sheim shomayim– it is like asking a human being to grow wings and fly.

One member of the tzibur said that David Hamelech had the right to do this because of k’vod malchus; in fact, R’ Shmuelevitz anticipates this explanation and rejects it, but his rejection seems weak to me.

Anyway, I said there is a proof to the vort from what Yosef told his brothers. He said, I’m not taking revenge, because although you intended bad, Hashem turned it/intended it for the good. How does that excuse the brothers? Their sin was their evil intention, and that is unaffected by the result. The answer is that since the only hetter for revenge is to reverse a chillul Hashem by punishing evil-doers whose aveirah created a chillul Hashem, that does not apply here. Normally an aveira does create chillul Hashem, because it is contrary to the retzon Hashem. But here, although the act was an aveira, it was so clearly an instrument of retzon Hashem, that the chillul already became a kiddush Hashem, so there is no reason for nekamah.

General info about the din of “lo sikom.”

I came across this very well done overview of the din of Nekama by Rabbi Yaacov Haber, but I'm leaving what I wrote; it's worth reading both.

The basic issur passuk is in Parshas K'doshim, Vayikro 19:18.

The Gemorah in Yoma 23a says Kol talmid chochom she’eino nokeim v’noteir k’nochosh eino talmid chochom. Gemorah asks, what about the issur? Answers, that’s only in money matters, like the story about the grudge against a stingy neighbor. But in personal pain, that is, disgrace or injury, it is muttar. Gemorah asks, but what about “hane’elovim v’einom olvim...” which praises those who disregard personal affront? Answers, you don’t do anything, but you hold the feelings in your heart; Rashi– and if someone else takes revenge, you remain silent. Gemorah asks, but “hama’avir ahl middosov mochlin lo kol avonosov”, which indicates that forebearance is praiseworthy? Answers, that just means that if the offender asks mechila, you are mocheil. But if he doesn’t ask to be forgiven, you are entitled to remember and resent his offense.

Lutzker Rov in Kedoshim– k’nochosh means without personal enjoyment.

R’ Bloch in P’ninei Da’as– “im lo y’fayeis lo, ohz yachzik regesh hanekamahh b’libo.”

According to Sefer Ye'reim, #197, there is no prohibition against nekamah in cases where one has been physically or verbally abused by another (tza'ara d'gufa), .

According to Rambam - Hilchos De'os 7:7, (I saw in the Likutim in the Frankel Rambam he brings a Shut Maharshag that says that the issur is only when the other refused to do a favor for you. But if the other did an “ovel” to you, it is muttar to take nekamah, and he brings a rayo from David and Shim’i. His rayo from David is, to put it mildly, weak: a melech is different, it was through his son, it was through a ruse, and plenty more) and Chinuch #241, it is forbidden to take n'kama even for severe provocations of tsa'ara d'gufa. See the Minchas Chinuch and meforshim there for mar’ei m’komos on the several l’shonos in the Gemorah and the nos’ei keilim in the Rambam. (Strangely, the Chinuch illustrates his point that a person should attribute suffering to Hashem’s will with reference to David Hamelech’s statement after Shim’i cursed him– leave him alone because it is from Hashem that this has happened. It’s strange because we see that David Hamelech sought retribution in his tzava’ah.

The Radak says that what he meant was that he knew that Shim’i was still a moreid b’malchus, and he wanted Shlomo to ferret out that subversive stance and have him killed, which is what happened in the end.)

The Chafetz Chaim (p’sicha to Hilchos Lashon Horoh, Be'er Mayim Chayim #8) paskens that one should follow this latter view based on the principle of "sofek de'oraisa l'chumra". However, the Chafetz Chaim further notes that even in extremes of tza'ara d'gufa, the issur of n'kama would only apply at a later time once passions have cooled and the avenger premeditates n'kama. To respond instinctively and spontaneously to a physical or verbal attack would undoubtedly be permitted according to all opinions. As support for this distinction, he cites the Sefer Ha-Chinuch who, in another context (#338), likens this situation to that of a rodef in which the nirdaf may use all tools at his disposal in self-defense to ward-off attack. I wonder if he would also be mattir nekamah as a deterrent. (The Sefer Ha- Chinuch emphasizes, however, that the preferred verbal defense should be one which diffuses tensions and preserves the dignity of the victim without drawing him into a cycle of rage.)

The Ramban in Kedoshim notes that one may take nekamah for dinei nefoshos, referring, I assume, to the din of go’eil hadahm. I suppose that’s because it is viewed as an injury to the relative, like monetary loss, which can be satisfied (that being the nature of people) through inflicting similar loss upon the malefactor.

So, for the time being, since this is not brought in Shulchan Oruch, but only by the CC in the psicha to Hilchos Loshon Horoh, we lack the most basic definition of the issur and, it goes without saying, the halocho l’maiseh.


  1. It's a major difficulty with issurim like 'lo sikum' that there are few clear halacha seferim devoted to them in a semi halacha l'maashe form.Some rabbonim even seem reluctant to answer these shaalos defintivly.So Barzilai how about stepping up to the plate and writing such a sefer of least recomend me some.

  2. Yehuda, I agree about the need. The problem is that a likut sefer would be of no use, since the shittos are so far apart. You need a posek to make sense of it and to be machri'a halocho l'maiseh. Like the Chofetz Chaim did with Loshon Horo.

    A likut I could do. A posek I'm not, at least not on halochos that are so thinly discussed, that would need a "from top to bottom" "kol hatorah kuloh" approach. I will suggest it to a certain talmid chacham I know, who is ro'ui to do the job.

  3. The difference is that Dovid Hamelech had the obligation to redress injustice but for practical rasons he was not able to carry it out at the time. He commanded Shelomo to complete his work.

  4. Barzilai,
    Allow me to modify my suggestion.Since you do seem to blog how about a clear sefer on many controversail (halacha not haskafa) issues that are seen on blogs.e.g. at what point does a question trancend the line of being letzonis;I've seen 2 bloggers mention their affinity forand delibrate listening to Xmas songs.Would that be a problem of "sameach b'yom eidum? Why not?What would be?etc.etc.etc.

  5. abrahamabbe@yahoo.comMarch 13, 2007 at 5:25 AM

    Who wrote this great article on revenge?
    At the end it says, "Posted by Barzulai"
    "Posted" means he wrote it, or that he's publishing it for someone else?
    I don't use "blogs" or understand them but I'm glad i found this dvar Torah.