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Should We Bear a Grudge Against a Murderer?

Should We Bear a Grudge Against a Murderer?

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Dear Rabbi,

I am shocked and horrified by the tragedy in New York, as is the rest of the community I live in.

There are dozens of people I know who never use bad language, and who are mindful of their speech and who do everything in their power to live a just life; however, now they are writing things like, “I would kill him myself,” or, “I want to chop him up and make him suffer.”

I understand the anger, shock and grief, but is this how we are supposed to respond, with a thirst for vigilante justice?

I just don't know what to say to these people.

Answer:

Your question is a good one. It would seem that when G‑d commands us against bearing grudges or taking revenge, it is specifically for times like these, when we feel so strongly.

The Human Reaction

We must remember that we are all human and prone to normal human reactions. It is normal for people to feel this way, even if it is not “correct” morally. As the Talmud says, “One can't be blamed for what they say out of pain.”1

This is not the time to educate people on how to modify their reactions. Not because it is wrong to do so, but because at this time it will not work.

Venting

Nobody who says these things has actually tried, or really contemplated, acting on their feelings. It is clear to most people that when there is no immediate danger at hand, one should not take the law into one’s own hands. We are all glad that the perpetrator has been caught, and we hope that our justice system will find the correct punishment for him.

What people are doing is venting their frustration and feelings of impotence in the face of something so horrible and incomprehensible. By doing this, they are able to let it go. Look at it as an alternative to crying.

Forgiving Harm to Another

As much as we should hope for peace and benevolence, and as much as we should be forgiving towards those who try to harm us personally, from a Jewish perspective, one should not respond with forgiveness when someone else is harmed.

When calamity befalls someone else, we should be outraged, and even argue with G‑d, as Abraham did in the story of Sodom,2 and Moses did while the Jews suffered in Egypt.3

There are times when an act of evil can only be cured through force. Although G‑d commands this to be done only in extreme cases, it is ultimately so that there can be the path to greater peace. In the case of the tragedy in New York, and in most cases that we encounter on our own, justice will be meted out through the justice system, not through vigilantism, as you so rightly point out.

This is in contrast to when someone does something wrong to you personally. In that case, you should strive to forgive, even as the other person receives their punishment. For example, if someone stole something from you, you should seek retribution, but ultimately you should forgive that person.

In conclusion, it is difficult to fault someone at a time of pain. I am certain that these angry statements being made are merely ways that people are coping with an astonishing tragedy.

See this insight in How To Take the Law Into Your Own Hands.

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org

Footnotes
1.

The Talmud, tractate Bava Batra 16b.

2.

In Genesis, Chapter 18-19.

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team and is co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Davis with his wife Sorele.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Bena New York February 22, 2016

is a Jew halachically obligated to forgive the murderer of his family member? Reply

Pinchus USA February 18, 2016

It's not just "venting" anymore. This angry and violent talk by those who were not personally involved (for example; It was not their friends or relatives who were killed) is the strongest not in cases of murder but in cases of someone being charged with "abuse of animals".
I saw a video with comments under it.
It showed in one scene a young girl, putting her feet against the stomach of a large dog.
Not hurting it, but just moving her feet around.
In the comments under the video, some people were saying the girl "should be killed,for abuse of animals".
Someone argued that she had not hurt the dog, and the response was that he did not care, he decided, even soft light touching was death penalty level "animal abuse".
These animal rights fanatics have in some cases already ruined people's lives by posting their phone numbers and home addresses (not too hard to find online, for those who know to find out who the people are and then find the personal information, they want.) and told everyone to "get them". Reply

Deborah Revell Freeport September 21, 2015

forgivness I'm sorry I forgot to say that if any people have a right to feel anger and resentment it is the Jew's. It is beyond understanding how so many countries and people don't believe Jews have a right to exist. I do try to understand how it is for the Jew's. Iran shoots bombs into Israel, and when Israel shoots a defense weapon to shoot down the incoming, Israel gets the blame. Yes you do have a right to be resentful, but now that you have a right, ask yourself "Is it right?" If you can be forgiving it is so much better. a lighter load to carry, better for your health. I hate what my ex husband did to me, but I don't hate him, I feel sorry for him, for what G-d will do to him. Reply

Deborah Revell Freeport September 21, 2015

Reply to Forgivness I've always believed that G D wants us to forgive no matter what. When my ex husband left me for another woman I was so angry and for a long time I resented him and was waiting for G-d to exact revenge for me. I later realised that as long as I stayed angry and resentful with my ex, in a way, I was letting him control my life. I finally forgave him in my heart and I don't have the extra weight on my back any more. When I think about him, I feel sorry for him, but the hate, resentment and waiting for revenge is gone and my life is much better now. A person can waste their entire life hating, Or that person can pray and ask G-d to take that load off his/her shoulders. And G-d will do that for you. Reply

Samir S. Halabi Geneve, Suisse May 25, 2012

When an Arab Muslim attacks a Jew to kill him I can assure you that I do bear grudges against the Arabs that murdered members of my family in Aleppo just for being Jewish. I am still to this day hunting them down as would have tracked down Nazis and killed them. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 16, 2012

But, what is your definition of "forgive"? How does that word even relate to having a "grudge"? I have another question relating to this issue. If my ex husband tried to kill me about 30 years ago, and I do not carry a grudge but still don't trust him, am I supposed to be all friendly and just accept him as if nothing ever happened? Reply

Anonymous LA, USA October 21, 2011

comment it's better to have a personality before your death, instead of living shallow minded. Go do something useful. There are lots of issues to be concerned with. Reply

Ber Yehud August 10, 2011

Two questions What if the punishment by the system is not the right punishment for the guilty?

What if what that person did causes you suffering without end, and then never received punishment? Reply

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