The burden of bearing a grudge silently is often so heavy that the resentment eventually slips into revenge. But what if it doesn’t? Does the Torah forbid the unrealized animosity of a grudge? Ostensibly, it does, however this prohibition may have a different interpretation. The standard explanation is that the former phrase forbids actively taking revenge (nekimah) and the latter phrase forbids desiring to take revenge (netirah). For example, R. Menachem Ben Saruk (Machberes Menachem sv. tr – link) explains that the latter term — netirah — means holding onto anger (״משמר חמה״). Similarly, Rashbam (ad loc.) explains netirah as refraining from vengeance “even in your heart.”

Grudgebearing: Literalism and Law

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I. Revenge and Grudges

Lev. 19:18 – “לא תקם ולא תטר – You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge”

The burden of bearing a grudge silently is often so heavy that the resentment eventually slips into revenge. But what if it doesn’t? Does the Torah forbid the unrealized animosity of a grudge? Ostensibly, it does, however this prohibition may have a different interpretation.

The standard explanation is that the former phrase forbids actively taking revenge (nekimah) and the latter phrase forbids desiring to take revenge (netirah). For example, R. Menachem Ben Saruk (Machberes Menachem sv. trlink) explains that the latter term — netirah — means holding onto anger (״משמר חמה״). Similarly, Rashbam (ad loc.) explains netirah as refraining from vengeance “even in your heart.”

Rashi quotes the following examples from the Sifra and Gemara (Yoma 23a, adapted from Soncino translation):

If one said to his fellow: “Lend me your sickle,” and he replied “No,” and the next day the second says to the first: “Lend me your axe” and he replies: “I will not lend it to you, just as you would not lend me your sickle” — that is revenge. And what is bearing a grudge? If one says to his fellow: “Lend me your axe,” he replies “No,” and the next day the second asks: “Lend me your garment,” and he answers: “Here it is. I am not like you who would not lend me” — that is bearing a grudge.

It seems clear that the grudge bearer holds his resentment without acting on it. However, some modern commentaries explain the verse differently.

II. Grudges and Revenge

Mendelssohn’s Bi’ur on Lev. 19:18 (link), in this case written by R. Naftali Herz Wessely, explains that the first biblical phrase means taking immediate revenge and the second means holding the anger to take revenge at a later date. One proof is Nachum (1:2): “נקם ה׳ לצריו ונוטר הוא לאויביו״ – The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies.” If netirah means just bearing a grudge, what is God doing to those adversaries? It must mean eventually acting on the grudge, just later.

The Bi’ur then quotes the rabbinic tradition, presumably intending the first explanation to be simple peshat and the latter either an alternate peshat or rabbinic derash. Shadal (ad loc.) quotes only the Bi’ur‘s first explanation. Can we reconcile this explanation with the Gemara quoted by Rashi? It would seem the Bi’ur did not think so. However, I disagree and think others do as well.

R. David Tzvi Hoffmann, in his commentary to this verse (link), adopts the same approach. Nekimah means taking immediate revenge and netirah means waiting for a later date. The latter is forbidden even if the revenge is taken in a non-active fashion. The Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, ad loc.) simply says that netirah means waiting for a time to take revenge. For both of these commentators, like the Bi’ur and Shadal, the Torah does not prohibit the silent bearing of a grudge. It only forbids it when it leads to some form of revenge.

But what of the Gemara? Do the eminent talmudists R. David Tzvi Hoffmann and the Netziv dismiss it on a peshat level? That could be the case but I suggest that they understand the Gemara differently.

III. Differentiating Between the Two

R. Aryeh Leib Gunzberg (Gevuras Ari, Yoma 23a – link) asks why the Torah needs to prohibit nekimah, revenge. If netirah, bearing a grudge, is forbidden, then revenge must also be forbidden because taking revenge inherently involves bearing a grudge. Since the Torah prohibits both nekimah and netirah, there must be a case of nekimah that does not involve netirah.

Therefore, R. Gunzberg explains that netirah is not just bearing a grudge but expressing it. If you keep it inside completely, you have not violated the prohibition. Someone who takes revenge violates the prohibition of nekimah. Someone who expresses his resentment violates the prohibition of netirah. Someone who bears a grudge but keeps it to himself violates nothing. That is why the Gemara’s case includes the grudge bearer saying, “I am not like you who would not lend me.”

I don’t propose that any of the commentators mentioned above agree completely with R. Gunzberg. I suggest that they believe that netirah is expressing, either verbally or through action, a grudge after time, as opposed to nekamah, which is immediately retaliating. Therefore, when they say that netirah means taking revenge at a later date, they are not contradicting this Gemara. This can be seen in R. Hoffmann’s words, mentioned above, that netirah is forbidden even if taken in a non-active form (זה האחרון [נטירה] אסור אף אם איו מתכוונים לנקום במעשה אלא רוצים לגמול באופן עדין, כביכול). He must be including the verbal response in the Gemara of “I am not like you who would not lend me.”

As to R. Gunzberg’s question, if one assumes that nekimah is immediate and netirah is at a later date then the only possible overlap is a short time, such as a day. (I would have suggested that the limit for a short time is either one day or thirty days. Since the Gemara mentions one day, perhaps that is the limit.) In this parallel case, the Gemara contrasts nekimah, retaliating in deed, with netirah, expressing resentment.

(hat tip to S for help in obtaining some texts)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

7 comments

  1. I don’t get why you drive a wedge between Wessely and Shadal on the one hand, and the Neziv and Hoffmann on the other. It is artificial if they all say the same thing.

  2. Because Wessely explicitly distinguishes between his peshat and the Gemara, and Shadal just quotes Wessely.

  3. The Netziv and R.Hoffman ,in my opinion, follow also the mechilta related to “lo tachmod”.One is only “over” lo tachmod if one does an action,or in this case speech.
    The question really is “Does the Torah legislate against negative feelings?
    While the ideal desideratum is to sublimate our feelings the Torah
    “was not given to malachei hashares.”(Brachos 25)

  4. Now that the world is on the subject of Osama Bin Laden’s demise, here’s a question.

    Even if we grant that netirah does not cover the mere feeling of a grudge, can we still go one step further and distinguish between different types of expressions of what might potentially be netirah?

    Consider these two scenarios:
    A) Osama Bin Laden is dead! We are so happy we finally got that SOB!
    B) Osama Bin Laden is dead! We are so happy that justice has been served!

    I realize that it is possible to interpret these two statements as identical, since OBL’s death = justice. But it MIGHT be possible to say that the former emphasizes OBL’s death (as in: you killed us, now we killed you), and thus comes closer to the prohibited formulation in Yoma 23a, whereas the latter emphasizes the value of justice, and thus might be distinguished from the case in Yoma.

    If we can make this distinction, then it might be possible to celebrate what occurred on Sunday while not running afoul of the prohibition on netirah.

  5. Joel thanks for the posting of the excellent article.
    Rav Aviner had similar comments today.
    There are enemies and there are ENEMIES.He made that in reference to Arafat.
    Furthermore Bin Laden is dead.I hope they have proof.
    There anyway can be no ‘netira” to him.

  6. R’ Jerry,
    Thank you for your insights. Personally, I am against vigilante justice and I do not endorse the Sunday raid on Bin Laden’s compound. Still, I am very left-wing in my politics and I am not saying this as a pesak halakhah. The Noahide Code halakhic issues are complex; hopefully President Obama consults with Gedolei Haposkim before each military action he undertakes.

    In any event, it is a great Kiddush Hashem that Bin Laden (who unjustifiably threatened the Jewish People) has been neutralized; may we see all of humanity speedily accept the Sovereignty of HKB”H, and may we see the security of the Jewish People continue to be strengthened. My condolences to all the 9/11 victims and their grieving families. It’s a truly amazing sanctification of the Name of Heaven that we see with our own eyes “shebekhol dor vador omdim aleinu lekhaloteinu, ve-HaKadosh Barukh Hu matzileinu miyadam”.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter


The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter

Archives

Categories

%d bloggers like this: