Justice vs. Revenge

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

Question of the Week:

I have been seriously hurt by my ex. It has now been seven months of abuse, put-downs, bad-mouthing, and humiliation, and I have remained silent. But now I have an overwhelming urge to take revenge. And I have the chance. With one phone call I could ruin his career and shatter his entire life. Should I do it?

Answer:

The desire for revenge is natural and understandable. We have an innate expectation that justice should be done, and when we see evil go unpunished we want to intervene. But we can’t. “Do not take revenge” the Torah warns.

Of course we must protect ourselves from being hurt. We need not be helpless victims of those who have malicious designs on us, and we must take every measure possible to stop evil being done. But no human justice system is foolproof. Even when someone seems to be getting away with evil, the Torah warns us not to take revenge. Even if we have been hurt, we mustn’t hurt back. Revenge is wrong.

On the other hand, it seems revenge can’t be all bad. The very same Torah which warns us not to take revenge describes G-d Himself as “a vengeful G-d”. How can this be? If we are told not to be vengeful, is G-d then allowed to be? If revenge is immoral, how can G-d be vengeful?

But that is exactly the point. The very fact that G-d is vengeful allows us humans not to be. Ultimate justice is in His hands. He will right the wrongs and punish the wicked. Those who have acted immorally will pay for their misdeeds. No one gets away with doing evil. In this world or in the next, in this lifetime or another, in ways we may never know, justice will be served. But that is not in our hands. G-d is the true judge, and only He can take revenge.

It’s funny, you often hear people disparaging “the vengeful G-d of the Bible”. They somehow think that a vengeful G-d will produce vengeful followers. The opposite is true. It is precisely G-d’s vengefulness that enables humans to let go of the desire for revenge. We know there is a Judge, and He will do justice. So we humans can leave the vengeance to Him, and get on with living.

Don’t waste your energy on feelings of bitterness and hostility. The more hatred thrown at you, the more you should surround yourself with love. If there are evil people out there, make sure you associate with good people. Don’t worry about getting even. Focus on just getting on.

All the best,
Rabbi Moss