The Torah tells us that it is forbidden to take revenge or even to hold a grudge against another Jew.1 The Talmud teaches the absurdity of grudges and revenge with the following analogy: Just as one who holds a knife in one hand and accidentally cuts his other hand would not even think of cutting the first hand in revenge, so too, one should not even think about taking revenge on a fellow Jew.2
What is considered to be “revenge” and what is considered to be a “grudge?” Let’s suppose that Reuven asks Shimon if he can borrow a hammer, but Shimon says no. The next day, Shimon asks Reuven if he can borrow an axe. If Reuven says to Shimon, “You didn’t lend me your hammer yesterday, so I’m not going to lend you my axe,” he has violated the prohibition against taking revenge.3 If Reuven agrees to lend Shimon the axe, but makes a comment such as, “I will lend you my axe because I am not like you,” he has violated the prohibition against bearing a grudge.4
It makes no difference whether the object currently being requested is of lesser or higher value than the object that was initially refused.5 Even lending the axe without commenting, but doing so in a clearly unenthusiastic manner, is also considered to be a violation of bearing a grudge.6 One is permitted to bear a grudge against a person who was the cause of a physical injury until that person asks forgiveness.7 Nevertheless, even in this instance, some authorities rule that it is forbidden to bear a grudge.8
Although the Torah strictly forbids taking revenge and bearing a grudge, these are not transgressions that are punishable in a beit din. This is because neither of these prohibitions involves performing an action; they are essentially “sins of the heart,” for which beit din cannot punish.9
A Torah scholar who was publicly insulted is permitted to bear a grudge and even take revenge if the offending party refuses to apologize.10
One must never use prayer as a means of getting revenge. For example, when Eli saw that Chana was praying fervently for a child, he warned her that if she was praying for children merely to get back at her sister, then she would not be answered.11 It is especially forbidden to pray that G-d take revenge on another person on one’s behalf for something that person had done.12
It sometimes happens that an individual will not attend another’s simcha because the baal simcha did not attend a simcha that the first person had made. Unfortunately, this attitude and conduct may be a violation of both “bearing a grudge” and “taking revenge.” Indeed, one must always ensure that one’s absence at an event will not be interpreted as being the result of a grudge or other negative development. Of course, when one is legitimately unable to attend a simcha or other event, one need not be concerned with what others might think.13
The best revenge one can have is to become a better person, which will cause the other party embarrassment and shame should they conduct themselves in an unbecoming manner.14
- Vayikra 19:18.
- Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4.
- See Yoma 23a; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:7.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 30:9.
- Ritva, Yoma 23a.
- Mesillat Yesharim 11.
- Yoma 23a.
- Chinuch 241; Lev Avraham 128.
- Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 7:7; Chinuch 241.
- Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 7:13.
- Sefer Chassidim 484.
- Ibid., 657.
- Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:832.
- Sefer Chassidim 88, 134.