Shevat 17
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Shevat 17

May no person be made to suffer on my account. (Siddur, Prayer on Retiring)

Although the Torah does not require people to love their enemies, it does demand restraint, in the sense of not seeking revenge (Leviticus 19:18). The Talmud extends this concept to forbid not only the act of revenge, but even a prayer that God should punish our enemies. “If someone is punished on account of another person, the latter is not admitted to the Divine Presence, for as Solomon says in Proverbs (17:16), ‘For the righteous, too, punishment is not good’ “(Shabbos 149b).

When Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev’s adversaries expelled his family from town during his absence, his colleagues asked Rabbi Wolf of Zhitomir to invoke the Divine wrath upon them for their heinous deed. “I cannot do anything,” Rabbi Wolf said, “because Rabbi Levi Yitzchok has anticipated us and is now standing before the open Ark, praying fervently that no harm come to them.”

Actions like this incident may appear to be the ultimate of magnanimity, but it is not necessarily so. To the contrary, they can also be understood as helping one’s own interests. If we pray that another person be punished for his or her misdeeds, we become vulnerable ourselves (see 3 Kislev), for the Divine sense of justice may then bring our own actions under greater scrutiny. After all, is it not reasonable to expect a high standard of personal conduct in someone who invokes harsh treatment of his neighbors? Consequently, it is wiser to seek forgiveness for others and thereby merit forgiveness for ourselves than to pray for absolute justice and stern punishment for others’ misdeeds and thereby expose ourselves to be similarly judged.

Today I shall...

try to avoid wishing harm to anyone, even to those who have greviously offended me.

With stories and insights, Rabbi Twerski's new book Twerski on Machzor makes Rosh Hashanah prayers more meaningful. Click here to order...

Published: May 21, 2009

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