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. 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.”
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)