Have you ever felt hurt, slighted or cheated by others with a careless word here, a neglect there or someone intentionally misleading you for their own gain? Of course you have—we all have. The question is, how should we react when these things happen to us? This week’s Torah portion (Lev. 19: 18) tells us: Lo tikom v’lo titor et b’ney amecha (You shall not take revenge nor bear a grudge). Is it possible to not bear a grudge or, as Christians would say, to turn the other cheek when we feel wronged or cheated?
Today some nations are doing just that. Remember “freedom fries”? After 911, when America invaded Iraq, how we felt betrayed when our ally France opposed the war? In response the House of Representatives renamed French fries on the menu of 3 its cafeterias to “freedom fries.” It took off all over America as the animosity of Americans for everything French continued to grow. Well, this week we saw a totally different scene in a lovefest in Washington between US President Donald Trump and France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
Saudi Arabia has always been a thorn in the side of the State of Israel. It has supported its enemies Hamas, the PLO and Hezbollah and has endorsed terrorism against her for 70 years. Just 3 weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman openly displayed a distinctly warmer tone toward Israel—seeing it as an attractive regional economic and technological hub as well as a potential partner in the kingdom’s cold war with Iran. The crown prince astonishingly declared: “Israelis have the right to have their own land” and that formal relations between Israel and the kingdom could be mutually beneficial.
Yesterday we witnessed an historic visit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. It was the 1st time a North Korean leader stepped foot in South Korea. They signed a declaration for “Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula,” committing the 2 countries to a “nuclear-free peninsula and talks to bring a formal end to the Korean War.”
If these countries can do it, is it possible for us to not bear a grudge or seek revenge when we feel wronged or cheated? When someone insults you or gossips about you, it’s human nature to hold a grudge. Friends may borrow money from you and not pay it back. Coworkers may “throw you under the bus” so that they’ll look better to the boss. Who has not been embarrassed in public by someone, and fantasized about humiliating that person in front of a crowd?
If you’re holding a grudge or seeking revenge, the Torah tells us that you don’t have to. It may not be easy to let go of the resentment, but the Torah tells us that we’re spiritually and emotionally capable of doing so. How?
Well let’s not be like the skycap at Hartsfield airport. I was once waiting to have my bag checked when the man standing in front of me didn’t offer the skycap a tip. Instead he sternly lectured him about taking special care of his 2 bags. He even yelled and cursed at him when one of his bags tipped over accidentally, then angrily stalked off toward his gate.
As I stepped up to give him my bag, the skycap had this broad grin on his face. I asked him how he was able to keep smiling given the sometimes difficult people he has to deal with.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Like that man who just cursed you,” I replied.
The skycap smiled and said, “Oh, that dude? People like him are easy. You see, he’s heading for L.A., but his bags are going to Detroit!”
No don’t be like that skycap seeking revenge. As far as revenge is concerned, let Gd take care of doling out justice. I hear He’s pretty good at it.
So how do we not bear a grudge or seek revenge? You’ll have to train your mind, and with enough practice it can become 2nd-nature.
One qualification: The Torah is not addressing serious abuse cases like child abuse, sexual abuse or spousal abuse. In those cases, please protect yourself and stay safe. Call the appropriate professionals and authorities and do whatever you must to ensure that this person does not abuse you—or anyone else—ever again.
So how does one train one’s mind to not bear a grudge? Rabbi Simon Jacobson of the Meaningful Life Center suggests a 5-point plan based on Kabbalah. Point #1 is that your mind is more powerful than you may think and can control the impulsive spirit of the heart: Allow your thoughts to precede and guide your feelings. Although you can’t control which thoughts pop into your mind, you certainly can decide which ones to hold on to. When an angry or otherwise negative thought about someone pops up in your mind, you don’t have to receive it willingly. When the “negative thought committee” bangs on your mind’s door voicing a grievance, the Kabbalists suggest saying to it: “I’m listening to what you say. But I don’t have time for you now. I have other things to do.”
#2: Do something counterintuitive. Do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing to your offending friend or acquaintance: Behave toward him/her with increasing affection. Tolerate him or her to the farthest extreme. Even though he did wrong and is responsible for his actions, which would naturally merit a negative reaction, you can transform your own negative feelings by behaving counterintuitively. When we do the unexpected, and go against our natural inclination to reciprocate against someone who has hurt us, we shake things up and generate a new type of transformative energy.
#3: The worst thing you can do is to pay someone back in kind. Letting go of a grudge is hard because naturally we want to get even. But are you going to become a petty person who retaliates for everything that happens to you? Do you really need someone to blame for your unhappiness? If you pay someone back in kind, your anger will grow along with your blood pressure. If you transcend it, you’ll transform yourself into a better person.
#4: Anger has a natural antidote: The natural antidote to anger is believing in a power greater than yourself. Rabbi Jacobson asks: How big is your world? If you are connected to transcendent energy, then your world is much bigger than what happens to you. Nor is your identity defined by what happens to you. Recognize that the incident that you’re angry about may have a higher purpose.
#5 is divide and conquer: The “negative committee” in your head will say to you, “If you can’t get rid of the whole grudge, don’t bother.” This is wrong. Divide and conquer your grudge. Step by step. Untangle that which is within your power, and then later untangle what’s left.
What it all adds up to is this. You decide who you rent space in your mind to: The name of the game is: Focus on yourself, not on the other person. Don’t let the offending person live for free in your mind! Your mind is valuable real estate! When you carry a grudge against someone and think about that person, you’re letting him/her continue to haunt and victimize you. They don’t deserve to have that kind of power over you. It’s not good for the liver in both senses of the word. When you focus on your purpose in life, you won’t be consumed by grudges.
And always remember: you are not a victim! Even when you’re boiling mad, you have the power to determine your destiny, and to be the better person. Amen!