The Foolishness of Revenge

Yael Eckstein  |  May 4, 2022

Yael Eckstein smiling down at an elderly Jewish woman.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. —Leviticus 19:18

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Kedoshim, which means “holy,” from Leviticus 19:1—20:27.

Whether I like it or not, one of the jobs of a mother is to break up fights. Don’t get me wrong. My children, thank God, love each other and enjoy each other’s company most of the time. But every so often, there are arguments and disagreements that can easily and quickly escalate.

Inevitably, fights between my kids revolve around something unimportant or even silly. A toy. A favorite spot on the couch. Whose turn it is in the bathroom. Of course, by the time I get involved, the original dispute has inevitably escalated. The cries of “He/she started it!” and “It’s not fair” get in the way of simply resolving the situation and getting everyone back to peaceful coexistence. It’s kind of like geopolitics, but without the serious implications.

The “he/she started it” claim is a favorite target of my parenting. I always remind my children that the one who continued the fight is also at fault. After all, I remind my children, the Bible warns us against taking revenge and holding grudges.

The Foolishness of Revenge

We read about God’s specific commandment against taking revenge in this week’s Torah portion: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Because the warning against revenge and the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” are in the same verse, the Jewish sages gave a beautiful explanation of the foolishness of revenge.

They compare revenge to a butcher who is cutting meat. While cutting the meat with the knife in his right hand, he slips and accidentally cuts his left hand. In response, the butcher’s left hand grabs the knife and cuts his right hand in retaliation. How ridiculous is that!

The point the rabbis were making is that if I truly love my neighbor as myself, I will view revenge as absurd. Revenge only escalates the situation and makes everything worse. Of course, justice must be done if a wrong was committed, but revenge solves nothing and only drives us further apart from each other.

The verse concludes with these words, “I am the LORD.” God is reminding us that as our loving Father, He desires that we seek reconciliation and peace rather than the foolishness of revenge, and that we be governed by our love of one another.

Your Turn:

Demonstrate your desire for reconciliation for our world, our nation, and for ourselves by joining us on May 5 for our annual Fellowship Fast, uniting together in the power of prayer. Learn how you can participate