By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
A verse in his week’s portion reminds me of a terse retort that American politician, Senator Henry Clay, made to his antagonist, Virginia’s John Randolph, right before their infamous duel in April of 1826.
The two were walking toward each other on a narrow footpath, with little room to pass. One would have to give way. “I never make room for scoundrels,” sneered Randolph.
“I always do,” Clay smiled as he stepped off the paved path to let Randolph pass.
In commanding us not to revenge nor bear grudges, the Torah alludes to two distinct character flaws.
“You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself — I am Hashem” (Leviticus 19:18).
What does the Torah mean, ” You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge,” what is the difference?
Rashi explains: If Joe says to David “Lend me your sickle”, and David replies, “No!”, and the next day David says to Joe, “Lend me your hatchet”, and Joe retorts, “I am not going to lend it to you, just as you refused to lend me your sickle” – this is avenging; and what is “bearing a grudge”? Rashi continues. “If Joe says to David, “Lend me your hatchet”, and David replies “No!” and on the next day David says to Joe “Lend me your sickle”, and Joe replies “Here it is; I am not like you, because you would not lend me” – this is called “bearing a grudge” because he retains enmity in his heart although he does not actually avenge himself.”
In both cases, the avenger and the grudge bearer have committed a sin. They have transgressed a negative commandment of the Torah.
But what about the initial denial of the loan? What is the punishment for the men who initially refused to lend their sickles or hatchets? Neither punishment, nor even a warning is issued to them. Why is the grudgingly generous man treated worse than the outright denier of kindness and sharing? A famous tale that circulates among disparate fund-raisers, goes as follows: The Rabbi came to the millionaire in search of a contribution for his Yeshiva. The man took him in warmly, but after the rabbi made his pitch, the man began a semi-tirade.
“Do you know that I have a brother that is in a wheelchair? His five children have no means of support!” The rabbi shook his head, apologetically. “And,” continued the magnate, “Did you know that I have a nephew with 12 children in Israel?
The rabbi began to stammer; he was unaware of all these obligations. The rich man cut him short. My mother is still alive in a nursing home that charges 1200 dollars a week! And my sister’s home just burnt down and they have no place to live!’
The rabbi began backing away sure that there was surely no funds left for his’s Yeshiva, but the broad grin on the man’s face stopped him. “And, Rabbi,” continued the mogul, “I don’t give a penny for any one of them, so why in the world should I give something to you?
The Chofetz Chaim explains:=A0 The Torah’s objective in this mitzvah is to train us not to be hateful or spiteful. Cheap is cheap.And it’s tough to do something about that. It is a character flaw, but it is not hatred. Some of the nicest most warm, friendly even loving people do not like to give or lend. They will offer you their ear, their home and their time. They just will not give something that they physically possess. The Torah, does not deal with them the same way as the person who would be generous, but for the animus in his heart, or the one who does give, but, his openhandedness is shrouded snide remarks, and a harbor of hate. That overbearing enmity, despite his tainted giving is worthy of a Torah transgression.
Though the Torah tries to get us to control our emotional responses, it is more important for us to be kind, loving, and compassionate than generous with a hateful heart.