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Parshat Masai: Revenge, Not a Jewish Value

Revenge: Not a Jewish Value

Parshat Masai shares additional detail regarding the laws of the Cities of Refuge, arei miklat.

In Jewish law, the category of horeg beshogeg, or negligence without intent to murder, allows for a member of the family or tribe of the victim to avenge the death.

The Torah provides Cities of Refuge in which the murderer, once convicted of negligent homicide without intent, may live protected from the appointed avenger.  As long as the murderer stays in his City of Refuge, he is safe.

With the death of the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, the murderer may return to his home and tribe, and the avenger may not harm him.

The question posed by many is, how does the passing of the High Priest suddenly cool the tribal and family drive for avenging their murdered relative?  What is to stop the avenger from ambushing the murderer on his way home?

In Judaism, revenge is seen as a negative attribute.  The Torah clearly states, "You must not take revenge!"  Revenge, in the Torah, belongs to Hashem.  In Psalms we read Kel Nekamot Hashem, G-d is the avenging G-d.  It is one of the few times an attribute has G-d's name both before it and after it.

The message here is often misunderstood to imply that the Jewish G-d is full of vengeance and revenge. The exact opposite is true. Judaism is all about forgiveness and repentance.

If, when, and how to take revenge is left to G-d.  The Torah fully understands the human impulse to right perceived wrongs.  To that end, the Torah provides the cooling-down period and establishes a safe place for the murderer to spend his days until the death of the High Priest brings forgiveness and resets the clock. The passing of the High Priest creates a sort of national amnesty, allowing all perceived wrongs between tribes that would otherwise fester and lead to internal strife to be forgiven and erased.

Today, yet again, the Jewish people in the State of Israel are at war with our enemies.  The Israel Defense Forces, from their inception, understood their role: not as avengers assigned to take revenge, but rather as defenders.  Revenge is G-d's business.

If only our enemies shared our culture of forgiveness rather than a culture of revenge.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Pinchos Hecht


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Parshat Matot: Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, Head of School

This week's D'var Torah is sponsored by Rabbi & Mrs. Pinchos Hecht in honor of Nancy Weissmann and Arthur Kurtz.

This week's parsha, Matot, tells of the request to Moshe by two and a half tribes to separate themselves from the corpus of Israel, to be allowed to settle and live on the other side of the Jordan River, due to the quality of pasture there.

The tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of the tribe of Menashe understandably focused on the great flocks of sheep they now owned; they feared that the land of Israel would not supply enough green pasture for their animals, and here they saw what seemed to be endless grasses, though not in Israel proper.

Moshe at first is disturbed by their request, and responds angrily.  After further discussion and a commitment from the two and one half tribes to lead the battle for the land and commit to remaining part of the body of Israel, Moshe relents.

This small story is a predictor of our very history. Throughout time, groups of Jews preferred living outside of Israel proper for economic reasons.  As long as they remained fully committed to their people and land, their decision was legitimate--as long as they had their priorities right.

The two and one half tribes, in their presentation to Moshe, first asked for permission to build corrals and barns for their animals, and then homes and schools for their children.  Moshe admonishes them for this.  Yes, preserving and protecting your wealth is important, but it must always be secondary to the quality of life, safety, and education of your children.  So the two and one half tribes repeated their request, this time putting their children's needs first.

  Outside of Israel, there are far too many parents who put their desire for wealth accumulation before the need to fully educate and connect their children to our people, and to our beloved State and Land of Israel.  With over 70% intermarriage reported (not including the Orthodox community), we see and suffer this confusion of priorities every day.

Atlanta Jewish Academy parents understand the importance of children first, and make the great sacrifice to build for their children first and foremost. I salute you, and commit to doing everything I can to support your sacrifice and decision.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Pinchos Hecht


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