Yaakov Lieder

Ancient Source, Modern Meaning: Do Not Take Revenge or Bear a Grudge

If you have 30 seconds

“Do not take Revenge or bear a grudge” Leviticus 19:18.

The concept of forgiveness is found in the quotation above, highlighting the danger of vengeance and grudges. These negative emotions are all-consuming and cause terrible strife. It is best to focus on love and compassion toward your fellow.

In today’s world, this message is increasingly relevant. Akin to our sages self-help gurus and psychologists emphasize the importance of forgiveness and letting go of grudges.

“Holding a grudge and seeking revenge will only keep you stuck in the past. It’s necessary to let go and focus on the present and future.” – Tony Robbins

“Revenge and grudges will only fuel more negative emotions and prolong healing. It’s crucial to let go and move forward.” -Dr. John Gottman

While Modern Psychologists all agree with the Torah’s dictum, they don’t offer guidance on becoming emotionally ready to forgive and forget.

If you have 2 minutes

There is a saying, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Funnily enough, the ancient wisdom of the Talmud and the Torah echoes this message.

 The Talmud teaches us that “he who bears a grudge is like one who worships idols.” Ouch! That’s a harsh indictment. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? When we hold onto grudges, we allow negative emotions like anger, hatred, and resentment to take root in our hearts. These emotions can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, even impacting our physical health.

The following questions come to mind:

  1. Why is this so?
  2. Why forgive?
  3. How to forgive?
  4. How to become emotionally ready to forgive?

The Torah explicitly forbids us to take revenge or to bear grudges (Leviticus 19:18). This mitzvah (divine command) instructs us not to “hate your brother in your heart” (ibid. 19:17).

Reconfigure your perception of the hurtful animosity

One generally feels negativity against someone when they have been hurt.

Invariably, there are three necessary factors:

1) someone,

2) did something bad

3) against me.

The reasoning is obvious:

1) If that person wasn’t responsible for my suffering, I would have no reason to be upset with him or her.

2) If something good was done, I have no reason to be angry.

3) If something bad was done against someone I don’t care about, why would I get angry?

Let us continue this line of reasoning.

Once I am aware that everything that happens in the world in general, and in my life in particular, is by divine providence and hence for my benefit, I have no reason to get angry with anybody. No one can choose to do me harm if it wasn’t decreed beforehand by G‑d.

Once G‑d decrees that harm should befall me, G‑d forbid, anyone can now freely choose to be the agent to carry out the decree. So, when something painful happens in my life, instead of getting angry with the messenger, I should ask myself:

  1. why do I deserve this?
  2. Is it to test me?
  3. Is it to refine me?
  4. Is it a punishment?
  5. Is it an opportunity to accomplish something unexpected?

But how does one acquire the ability to forgive?

The Torah gives us practical tools.

Ignore your instinct for vengeance and overcome your desire  to “even out the score”. Behaving as if nothing happened, will weaken or even eliminate the negative feelings you have towards your antagonist. When one does not nourish negative feelings, they lose strength and eventually disappear.

And remember this!

One does not decide what happens to him; one decides what he wants to do with what happens to him. Eliezer Shemtov

So, let’s raise a glass of herbal tea (because holding grudges is so last year) to forgiveness and moving forward. Cheers to letting go of the past and embracing a brighter future.

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Lieder was born in Israel and received his formal education in Israel and the United States. For the past 42 years he has been involved in many aspects of education and have held a variety of positions in Australia.
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