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Thought for the Day: Taking Revenge and Holding Grudges

I was trying to think of a cute story to introduce the topic of n'kama (revenge) and n'tira (holding a grudge), but I really couldn't think of anything.  I finally realized there is just nothing cute or witty about n'kama and n'tira; there are just ugly.  They are also sweet like anything.

The gemara asks what is n'kama (revenge) and what is n'tira (bearing a grudge).  In essence, Asher asks Yehuda to borrow his hammer and Yehuda refuses.  Later, Yehuda wants to borrow a screwdriver.  If Asher refuses to lend his screwdriver to Yehuda, that's revenge.  If Asher tells Yehuda, "I shall lend you my screwdriver even though you didn't lend be your hammer."; that is bearing a grudge.  So I had understood "lo sikom v'lo sitor" (vayikra 19:18) to mean, "don't take revenge and don't even bear a grudge".

I was fine with that until I saw the following M'silas Y'sharim in the chapter on Details of Character Cleanliness:  If the evil inclination can't induce a powerful resentment, it will try for at least some trace.  For example, If you want to give this guy something he wouldn't give you, at least don't do it with a pleasant expression.  Or if you don't want to hurt him, at least don't do him a big favor or offer him valuable assistance.  Of, if you want to to help him, at least don't do it in front of him, or don't become  friends with him.  If you have pardoned him to not feel enmity, at least don't be friendly with him,  or at lest don't be as close as you were.  (Ok, to be honest, this is not the first time I saw this M'silas Y'sharim.  It is, apparently, the first time I paid attention.)

The problem for me is that this almost all sounds like bearing a grudge.  Yes, the M'silas Y'sharim applies this to both traits.  So let's fix up the story a bit.  Asher asks Yehuda to borrow a regular hammer.  Yehuda refuses, yet sees Yehuda lend it out to lots of people.  Yehuda is obviously doing this because he wants to irritate Asher.  A bit later, Yehuda needs a special, fine screwdriver that is not common at all.  Bearing a grudge is easy; Yehuda asks and Asher replies, "Sure, because I am not like you."  However, suppose that Yehuda has no idea that Asher even has such a screwdriver.   If Asher knows that Yehuda needs that screwdriver and -- simply because Yehuda was obnoxious to him -- does not offer to lend the screwdriver to Yehuda, or doesn't offer with a pleasant expression, or gives it to someone else to give to Yehuda, or ... in all those cases, Asher has transgressed the issur d'oraisah of taking revenge.

In summary, bearing a grudge means to indicate in any way that the other person's hurtful behavior is still remembered even though he is helping.  Taking revenge means withholding help even though the other party has no idea or even expectation that you could be of help.

It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold.  According to the Torah, that dish is a ham and cheese sandwich.  Bon Apetit.


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