The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 3 June 1999

TORAH TEACHINGS

Responding to Thanks and Gratitude

When guests ate Abraham's food and they thanked him, he responded, "Is it my food that you've eaten? It's the food of the one God; everything is from Him. Bless and thank Him!"

This is the way we should respond to thanks and appreciation (at least from religious people who won't be embarrassed by such words).

Revenge and Paying Back

Many people know the Golden Rule, which is the Rabbis' rule of thumb for applying the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Fewer know the Rabbis' equally important rule to apply the commandment not to take revenge or bear a grudge.

The Rabbis said: What is considered "revenge" and what is "bearing a grudge"?

If you say to your neighbor, "Lend me your scythe," and he refuses, and the next day he comes to you and says, "Lend me your spade," if you answer, "I won't lend it to you, just like you wouldn't lend your tool to me"-- that is revenge. Therefore, the Torah says, "You shall not take revenge."

And what is considered bearing a grudge? If you say to your neighbor, "Lend me your scythe" and he won't lend it to you, and the next day he comes and says, "Lend me your spade," if you answer, "Here, take it. I'm not like you, because you wouldn't lend your tool to me"-- that is bearing a grudge. Therefore, the Torah says, "You shall not bear a grudge." (Yalkut Shimoni on Leviticus 19:18)

What this means is that a person should return good for evil. When someone treats you badly, you should not only be ready to do him good, but you should not even remind him of what he did, as Leviticus 19:18 teaches: You should neither take revenge nor bear a grudge, but love your neighbor as yourself. This rule, explaining that one should not take revenge or bear a grudge, has many important applications in daily life.

Ben Azzai explained with a parable the commandment against taking revenge or holding grudges. He said:

It is written: "Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against the children of your people, [the verse continues: but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord [Leviticus 19:18]," for how can a person take revenge or hold a grudge against another person? It is like someone who is cutting meat that he is holding in his hand: If the knife accidentally slips and he cuts his hand, would he revenge that hand by cutting the other one? (Y. Nedarim 9)

This simple parable expresses a belief in a mystic unity among people that is the basis for loving others and for not taking revenge or bearing a grudge against those who hurt or harm you. If someone harms you, how can you retaliate, for you would only be harming yourself!

The teaching of the Torah and the ancient Rabbis requires a very high level of consciousness. How can we ever attain it and the ability to fulfill this exalted view? Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag, the late Israeli kabbalist taught:

Serving God "above and beyond one's understanding" means that if someone troubles you and it's clear to you that you should pay him back double; if he hit you, that you should hit him-- but the Torah comes and says: "Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Even if it's clear to you that you should take revenge, the Torah tells you not to act according to your understanding, but according to the Torah. This is the way to act regarding both the commandments between man and man as well as between man and God.

Some people might think that serving God beyond one's understanding applies only to mitzvot between a person and God. Rabbi Baruch Shalom explains here that it applies also to going beyond your present level also regarding your relations to other people.

Weeping for God

Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag taught:

"When a child wants something, and his father gives him excuses, the weeping child doesn't listen. He wants the thing! So we should say to the Creator: that we want the thing-- d'vekut with Him-- and we aren't interested in the excuses! The meaning of weeping is that a person doesn't accept any excuses. When someone knocks on all gates and sees that he has no success, he breaks out in tears and opens up the Gate of Tears. The urgency that doesn't accept any excuses is called 'crying.' But a person needn't work to arouse crying. He should work to arouse in himself a need that can't be compromised."

In the service of God, we must be single-minded,
not narrow-minded.

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Copyright 2004-2005, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.