Is it Correct to Take Revenge?
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Revenge must first be defined.
I believe it to be the attitude of a person, (either realistically or imaginarily wronged by another), who feels he must "correct" a wrong done to him. One wronged has had a blow to his ego, and if one functions primarily by the ego, he cannot tolerate another human being stealing his "spotlight" of self importance by the oppressor's subjugating him. In order to tip the scales of personal pride back in his favor, he must retaliate by equally subjugating the oppressor. Doing so, in his mind, the insulted party will now feel he has corrected reality back to favoring him as the more important human.
There are two mistakes one makes in this equation: 1) The primary mistake is that he feels that he must placate his ego to the expense of all else, and 2) He feels revenge will set "reality" straight.
Judaism's view is not to take revenge, and goes so far as to command us not to harbor ill feelings about someone. They are 2 of the 613 commandments. But every command must make sense, as it is part of the design of the Creator, the same Creator who fashioned the solar system with rational and systematic laws. This is so of anything fashioned by this Creator - all creation must follow a rational design.
The command not to take revenge then is rational because it is based on a few sound principles: 1) One insulted cannot change history by being vengeful. 2) One should not place his ego as the barometer for his actions. It is false to fabricate self importance, or to make it a goal whatsoever. As one did not create himself, why should one take pride in himself?
The question of revenge actually brings us to the very core idea of human existence - what man's purpose is during his short stay on Earth.
As all philosophers discovered - but against the popular opinion followed by our egomaniacal culture - knowledge is the pursuit which is most enjoyable to man. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, man is frustrated when not satisfying a component of his nature. Just as one who is thirsty is frustrated physically, ie. without drink, and just as one is frustrated psychologically, ie. without human companionship, so also one is even more frustrated when a more central part of his nature is not satisfied. I refer to the intellect. Intellectual involvement is essential to human happiness.
One recognizes that the intellect is the center of man, as one finds the most violent insult to be when one is accused of stupidity, as opposed to being accused of being dressed poorly, or being too short, or being a poor singer. As one is most insulted when he is called an ignoramus, we see that the intellect is what most people define as "themselves". The "I" or "me".
Additionally from a practical standpoint, a wise person lives most at ease. He uses his knowledge to secure his needs with well thought out plans, and his desires are far lessened, as he see through the fantasies which most people project onto the physical world. King Solomon examined and experimented with the physical desires to learn which is the most enjoyable life. As he was the wealthiest and most powerful person of his time, he admitted that he held nothing back from all that he desired, (Koheles, 2:10) " And all that my eyes desired, I held nothing back, and I did not prevent my heart from any gladdening." But King Solomon concluded that the physical pleasures in it of themselves were vain pursuits.
How then, does one reach the proper attitude? The most pleasant state of existence?
Only through knowledge. Intellectual pursuits afford man the best life from it's involvement.
Knowledge has always been the answer, and has always been what the prophets and philosophers taught, and what G-d admonished man for ignoring. If one realizes he is one of billions of humans, and he learns about sciences, he will undoubtedly realize how small he is by comparison. His newly found knowledge which help to shift his focus from an inner self engrandizement, to an external search for ideas and truth. The more one learns, the more he will come to the real enjoyment of knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom. He will naturally find that discovery and wisdom are enjoyable pursuits. It is a trick of the mind which prevents most people from accepting this truth. Most people would find it emotionally difficult to extricate themselves from rehearsed forms of imagined enjoyment. But it is only that it is rehearsed and familiar which keeps one to following these desires. Once one extricates himself from his repeated, comfortable patterns of behaviour and from his emotional familiarity, he will find there is enjoyment in learning. It may take a little time, but in the long run one will find satisfaction, as he is satisfying a central part of his nature. His mind.
I believe it is the frustrated state of the intellect which causes most people to find imagined activities to fall short of expectation. As one travels, pursues physical desires, eats delicious meals, he often says to himself when done, "now what?". Meaning, he's still in need of satisfaction. Man never seems to be satisfied. Give him a million dollars, and he'll find someone with more, and again revert to dissatisfaction. Knowledge however has no limits. One's involvement can continue without saturation, unlike any physical desire. This open ended activity allows for continued satisfaction. But it is the involvement itself which offers the real enjoyment, as the mind naturally appreciates wisdom, and craves answers. Look at any child who has not entered the school system. He is naturally asking questions, and finds answers a delight. It is only after the school system has ruined the mind by praising memorization and regurgitation, that a person associates pain with knowledge. If schools taught creative thinking, philosophy and the like, most people would still have the healthy and natural childhood disposition of excited inquiry.
To surmise, combined, one's self awareness of his minute status in the universe, and his appreciation for objective knowledge, will diminish his drive to bolster his ego. One will not care when he is insulted, as his ego will no longer be his center of attention. His knowledge will also teach him that even if he still has some remnant of his previous egoistic drives, he will realize that revenge does not change the insult. On both counts, he will not take revenge, as it is false, and also, he will not interest himself in preserving a comparatively greater image of himself over his oppressor. The self will no longer be the focus, as he will have replaced his previous internal, egotistical drives, with new found excitement experienced via his search for external, intellectual pursuits.
He will have arrived at the proper state where revenge will no longer be a sweet thing, but rather, a deterrent from his pursuit for knowledge.

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