Pirkei Avos – Rejoicing at an Enemy’s Downfall

Yaakov Trachtman

Pirkei Avos, chapter 4 mishnah 19:

"Shmuel Hakatan would say “do not rejoice at your enemy’s downfall and with his destruction do not gladden your heart, for God will see and it will be bad in your eyes and He will remove his anger (“Apo”) from upon him” (Mishlei 24:17-18) 

The Rambam’s edition of Pirkei Avos adds: it does not say “Charon Apo” but rather “Apo”.

What is the mistake that one makes?

What is the difference between “Apo” and “Charon Apo”?

Why should the person’s sin of rejoicing save the evildoer from punishment? 

I would like to propose, based on the Ralbag’s explanation of the verse in Mishlei, that the difference between “Apo” and “Charon Apo” is that Apo means that the person is not under personal divine providence; but rather, subject to chance. The Rambam explains in the Moreh Nevuchim that most people do not merit Divine providence in their daily life and are therefore under natural, physical laws. Most punishment falls under this class of “merely” being distant from God. For such a person, his evil only causes his removal from the direct relationship of supervision from God; the particular things which happen are not the result of his evil (except insofar as they are natural consequences). “Charon Apo" on the other hand is when God is “actively” punishing the person. Rejoicing in our enemy’s downfall, we succumb to the fallacy that God is actively punishing this person. We think that because of our righteousness, God is punishing our enemy. Since the enemy does not actually deserve punishment, he is rescued in order to punish the rejoicer - us. This is a direct consequence of one thinking that God’s providence is in direct response to his own personal desires. In order to correct our idea of divine providence, God punishes "Measure for Measure" by actively rescuing our enemy with divine providence because of our rejoicing. 

Why is this verse located in Mishlei, which normally takes up practical consequences? Even though this verse takes up philosophical ideas, the nature of this motivation is not a philosophical recognition, but rather not wanting "consequences" that go against our personal desires. Hence it is practical advice, as opposed to deep philosophical investigation, and properly located in Mishlei.