I don’t want revenge

When I opened facebook this morning and began to scroll down my newsfeed, I felt like I’d stepped into some sort of battle – a perverse popularity contest, maybe – between “HYD” and “BDE.”

“HYD” – “Hashem yikom damam” – May G-d avenge their blood.

Versus “BDE” – “Baruch Dayan Emet” – Blessed be the true Judge.

(Note for those who are going to correct me, that it should be “Baruch Dayan HA’emet – not the point right now, okay? I’m working with the acronym I see people use, which has an “E,” not an “H.”)

People were posting, sharing, commenting. Some responded to the news with HYD, and some with BDE.

I was particularly struck by one comment on a “BDE” post that made a point of correcting the poster, saying he should instead have said “HYD.” And by another friend, who skipped all the acronyms and just posted “REVENGE.”

Like everyone else, I’m sick about the whole thing.

But am I supposed to react by saying “Hashem yikom damam”? To call down the wrath of Heaven, not to protect me or put an end to evil, but simply in the pursuit of revenge?

I know, it’s not a new phrase; it wasn’t created by modern bloodthirsty ultranationalists or whatever. For one thing, it appears in our liturgy, in the Avinu Malkeinu prayer recited on days of particular national mourning and introspection – when we plead with our Father to avenge the blood of His servants who, throughout history, have been brutally murdered.

Apparently, revenge does have a place as a positive in our tradition.

But I’m not looking up texts right now. Very unlike myself, I’m not digging for the precise definition of “revenge” or  comparing sources to analyze when it might be a legitimate goal and when not, in the eyes of the Torah.

Right or wrong, at this moment, today, I’m just reacting to the words.

Right or wrong, I can’t say HYD.

I don’t want revenge. I don’t see the point.

The children and grandchildren won’t get their parents and grandparents back just because those who killed them are dead.

The parents won’t get their children back just because the families and friends of their murderers are also killed.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to still be alive certainly won’t feel safer just because more people have been killed or made angrier.

So why should I want “revenge”?

Calls for revenge confuse me, and they scare me.

“Revenge” is an ugly word. It looks to the past, instead of the future. It speaks with anger, instead of thoughtfulness. I don’t fault the anger in the slightest, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s constructive.

We bristle at words like “escalation” in the news, and the way so many in the media portray the actions of the Israeli government as if they were morally equivalent to those of Palestinian terrorists. But by focusing on words like “revenge,” we are feeding into that portrayal.

Words are important. There are valid, important actions that could be accurately described as “response” or “deterrent” or “revenge” – but there are other actions which are also included in the word “revenge.” And I’m pretty sure (I certainly hope) most of us don’t want those to be taken. The ones that are ugly and pointless and destructive, that stem from anger rather than forethought or pursuit of justice. The ones that might legitimize any of those claims that both sides are equally responsible for “escalation of violence.”

I think we’d do well to choose our words carefully.

We can and should be angry. We can and should be sad. We can and should be bewildered at the human capacity for doing horrible things to other human beings.

And we can and should rack our brains for some inkling as to what we might possibly do to stop these atrocities. I have no idea how to go about that, but there must be something out there for someone to do, right? Something that is constructive and effective? Something, perhaps, that somebody – or Somebody – can figure out and convey to the rest of us?

In an age of social media acronyms and other conventions – I’m on team BDE.

Not that I necessarily know exactly what that phrase is meant to convey, either. I don’t know what we’re supposed to mean when we say “true” or “Judge,” or precisely what philosophical stance we adopt when we react to bad news by blessing the “true” “Judge.” I’m not even sure I’m wording/translating it precisely as the Talmud intended.

But right now, today, I’m not thinking about those technicalities. I’m thinking about the fact that I don’t have any answers; I’m thinking about being angry and sad and bewildered. And for whatever it’s worth, whatever it means, I’m praying to the true Judge that He will help us humans figure out how to achieve justice – not “revenge” – in this world, and put an end to this bewildering loss of life.

Because I don’t want revenge.

I just want this to stop.

About the Author
Sarah Rudolph is a Jewish educator and freelance writer. She has been sharing her passion for Jewish texts of all kinds for over 15 years, with students of all ages. Sarah's essays have been published in a variety of internet and print media, including Times of Israel, Kveller, Jewish Action, OU Life, Lehrhaus, and more, and she serves as Editor-At-Large, Deracheha: womenandmitzvot.org. Sarah lives in Ohio with her husband and four children, but is privileged to learn online with students all over the world through Webyeshiva.org.
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