Written by student
Minchas Chinuch on “Nakama” - Revenge
The Chinuch says if something negative happens to us by the hands of Ruben, had it not been him, Simon would have afflicted us. The Chinuch describes what sounds like an inevitable occurrence, and not a chance phenomenon. Meaning, it was G-d’s will. However, we are posed with a problem. For if it was G-d’s will, does this mean Ruben does not receive punishment? The Chinuch quotes King David saying upon his receipt of Shimi’s curse, “it is G-d’s will.” It appears on the surface that David did not hold Shimi accountable for his curse. If this is so, why did David later advise Solomon to eliminate Shimi? It would then follow, if events are G-d’s will, why should I ever take another person to court?
In the Chinuch’s law of Maakeh, parapet, he teaches that miracles are not to be relied upon. We are to build a parapet on our roofs, lest someone fall and die. Since nature is that people stumble, and we don’t rely on miracles, we must safeguard others from death and harm. Natural laws exist, and chance occurrences happen. Here, the Chinuch appears to contradict what he wrote in the previous law of revenge. The question is, do events occur by chance, or through G-d’s will? How may we resolve this seeming contradiction?
Maimonides cites Torah instances where individuals refer to events as “G-d’s will.” (Dover ed. pp. 249) Some take this to mean that all events are directly willed or caused by G-d. However, Maimonides teaches that such references are made to merely indicate the perspective of the individual, i.e., that he views all events as results of G-d’s original will Who set the world into existence. “G-d as cause” is merely a reference to the original Cause of all events.
We digress to help answer our questions.
G-d’s will is also that man be subject to nature. Hence, one has no knowledge whether an event was divine will, or nature. If so, why are we commanded to bless G-d for miracles that have occurred for us? Does this not contradict the perspective that we are ignorant of when miracles occur? We may answer that certain events obligate man in praise of G-d, regardless of our absolute knowledge of that event being miraculous. Our obligation is to “treat certain events as miraculous”. We must regard it as “miracle”, although ignorant if it was a miracle. We are commanded to “treat” special events with certain awe.
This tangent helps us answer the Chinuch: A person must regard a negative event “as if” it is a punishment from G-d. We all have sins, and to that extent, we must realize that G-d does in fact have a system of punishment. We then treat a negative event as an opportunity for introspection. Referring to this event as a “cause of G-d” does not mean G-d willed this “specific event”, but that He is the ultimate cause. It refers to man’s proper perspective. David referred to Shimi’s curse as G-d’s will, in the sense that G-d is the ultimate cause of all, and this was David’s perspective. David didn’t attack Shimi “at the time of the curse”, as this would be revenge. However, his command to Solomon much later on to avenge Shimi’s evil, displays that this was not a violation of revenge, but to secure the kingdom.
Monetary loss is also in man’s right of claim. But pure revenge is prohibited, as revenge forfeits introspection. When seeking revenge, one lives in the world of the relative, instead of using these valued opportunities for our perfection – man’s primary goal. Therefore, when we say one should view it as punishment, it means that one should use this as an opportunity for perfection. It is addressing the “perspective”, not the immediate cause of the negative events.
The desire to avenge someone for his perceived wrong displays one’s own corruption. Placing value on another person’s words plays into the subjective value system. However, a righteous pwerson does not value a person’s words although they produce discomfort in others - he values G-d’s word alone. What G-d deems as important is the righteous person’ sole barometer of good and evil. Another person’s ridicule cannot shake his values, but rather, it is an opportunity to introspect.
Joseph’s response to his brothers that “you have not sent me here (Egypt)” teaches the same concept. Joseph knew his brothers sold him; he was there at the sale! But we derive Joseph’s perspective, as viewing untoward incidents as part of G-d’s actions. Joseph orchestrates his brother’s repentance; hence, the brothers were at fault. But Joseph’s perspective was always measured in its effect on his relationship with G-d.
Even if one does not know if he sinned, one should use a mishap as an opportunity to perfect himself, regardless of the cause of the mishap, be it via man, animal, or nature.