Is This Revenge?

Question

Yossi received an invitation to the wedding of his cousin Dovid’s
daughter. He is inclined not to attend since Dovid did not come to his son’s
bar-mitzvah, which took place a month ago. Yossi’s father also does
not intend to go to this wedding in protest of his nephew’s behaviour. Would
either or both of them be in violation of the prohibition against taking
revenge by not attending the wedding celebration?


Answer

"You must not take revenge nor harbour a grudge against
the members of your people," (Vayikro 19:18). Our Sages inform us
(Tractate Yoma 23a) that if Reuven refuses to lend Shimon a scythe on
Sunday, Shimon would be guilty of revenge if he refuses to lend Reuven an
axe on Monday. However, if Shimon did lend Reuven the axe he requested, but
added that, "I will lend you the axe, since I am not like you, who refused
to lend me the scythe yesterday," he is guilty of bearing a grudge. One
should note that our Sages gave an example of financial revenge to
illustrate the prohibition. Does this prohibition also extend to other forms
of revenge, such as avenging verbal or physical abuse? The Chofetz Chayim
(Introduction, Negative Commandments 8-9) informs us that there is a
difference of opinion amongst the Rishonim (Earlier Commentators) on
this point. The Re’em (Sefer Yera’im, No.41) asserts that
there is a contextual proof that the prohibition is limited to monetary
matters. The preceding verses discuss such matters as stealing, withholding
wages, denying debts, etc., which are all financial matters. It is therefore
logical that the prohibitions of taking revenge and bearing a grudge which
follow also refer to money matters. Avenging non-financial harm is not a
Torah prohibition.

The Sefer HaChinuch disagrees. He writes that the
Torah forbids inflicting pain on a person who caused you pain. It is
important for a person to realise that whatever happens to a person is
ordained by Hashem. If another person inflicts harm on him, he is
merely acting as Hashem‘s “stick” (which is in itself no great
compliment to him—see Tractate Makkos 10b). There is therefore no
room for negative feelings towards this "stick". Thus, he draws no
distinction between financial retaliation and other types of revenge. The
truth is that this opinion is very difficult to understand since our Sages
themselves make this distinction (see Tractate Yoma 23a).
Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chayim concludes that since there is doubt
whether the Torah prohibition extends to non-financial forms of revenge, one
must conduct oneself according to the stricter view (sofek d’Oraisa
l’chumra
).

Accordingly, if Yossi fails to participate in Dovid’s
celebration out of revenge for Dovid’s failure to join his own festivities,
he could be in violation of the Torah prohibition against taking revenge. If
he does attend but makes Dovid aware that, unlike him, he is making the
effort to participate in a relative’s celebration, he could be guilty of
bearing a grudge. Regarding Yossi’s father, Rav Yitzchok Silberstein (Tuvcha
Yabiu
, No.1) cites the opinion of the work, "Yisroel Kedoshim"
that a non-involved party who takes revenge on behalf of a victim does not
infringe the Torah prohibition against taking revenge. In our case, it can
be argued that Yossi’s father is avenging his own pride and not that of his
son, rendering him guilty of taking revenge. He adds that if Yossi is
usually too busy to attend celebrations but would have felt an obligation to
make a supreme effort to attend Dovid’s celebration if Dovid had attended
his, then non-participation is not considered revenge. However, it is
important that Yossi (and his father) honestly examine their motives. If in
doubt, do not hesitate to participate in the wedding!