In this week’s Torah portion of Matot, G-d instructs Moshe “Take revenge against the Midianites for the children of Israel. After that, you will be gathered to your people.” And that is exactly what happens. A military force of 12,000 men is organized. Every Midianite male and their kings are killed. The women are taken captive along with their small children and all their livestock and possessions plundered. Their residential cities are set aflame. Interestingly enough, even the Levites, usually excused from battle, participate “to carry out G-d’s revenge.”
All this occurs after the 40 year sojourn through the desert, prior to their entry into the Land of Canaan, while encamped on the Jordan River opposite Jericho, not too far from my home.
Divine revenge is something we pray for practically every Shabbat, just before the Musaf prayer. “… Avenge the spilled blood of His servants … for He will avenge the blood of His servants … the retribution for the spilled blood of Your servants…”
And yet, the Torah instructs us “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.”
Is revenge a means to an end or an end unto itself? Is revenge sometimes the only way to rectify a wrong, to make things right, to bring order, balance, to return to the state one was at prior to when the original wrong was perpetrated? Is revenge a severe form of comfort?
More than once I have heard a Holocaust survivor “kvell” over their children and grandchildren and express their pride, saying that that is their revenge against the Nazis. Is that the positive expression of revenge?
Revenge can be a crucial element in certain societies. Is revenge evil, or something left only for G-d?
As we Jews state regarding those who would do us harm; “May God avenge their blood.”
And the IDF.