Parsha Pearls: The Comfort of Revenge
By Yochonon Donn
When Adolf Hitler killed himself hours before the Russian Army burst into his Berlin hideout, many Jews felt that he had cheated justice. The monster responsible for annihilating a third of Klal Yisroel, for decimating Europe and sparking the widest world war in history deserved a punishment. Healing, it was felt, depended on taking revenge.
Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l, the author of Michtav MeiEliyahu, had a different outlook on this. The Nazi chieftain, he said, “did not merit the kiddush Hashem that would have resulted from the revenge. If he would have been hanged, it would have been a cause for a big Purim, a tremendous simcha for Yidden. But he did not merit to have a Purim declared because of him.”
This stance, told to me by Rav Dessler’s eidim, Rav Eliyahu Yehoshua Geldzahler zt”l in 2011 after arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed, depicts the authentic use for revenge — on reshaim.
“Nekamah is a part of life,” Rav Geldzahler, who was the nasi of Yeshiva Ohr Yisroel and a mechaber of several serfarim, told me. “It is a Christian philosophy to ‘turn the other cheek.’”
Parshas Va’eira is a strange one. Every parsha in the Torah brings the story forward. You head into Shemos with Yaakov and the descendants going to Mitzraim and exit it in the bitterest throes of exile. Bo starts with the maakos and ends in the triumph of geulah. Vayishlach begins with Yaakov’s attempts at returning to his father’s home and ends with his reconciliation with Esav. Etcetera etcetera.
Va’eira, though, begins and ends with Paroh’s refusal to let His people go and one Makkah after the other raining down on him — in some cases quite literally. Skip the parsha and the story would read seamlessly.
The end of Shemos records an interesting instruction from Hashem to Moshe. “My firstborn son Yisroel — tell Paroh that if he does not release My son I will kill your firstborn son.” There are varied explanations for this, which seemingly cuts ahead to the last of the ten makkos.
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, though, understands it literally — Hashem’s plan was to force Paroh to let the Yidden free through makkas bechoros. Paroh, however, responded with a derisive “Who is Hashem that I listen to Him?” Hashem, k’viyachul, paused his original plan to show His might to Mitzraim.
Paroh, it appears, was worthy enough to have a kiddush Hashem performed through him. With the revenge against his cruelties and oppressions, Hashem’s Name was elevated and an entire parsha is dedicated to its magnitude.
The parsha of Va’eira, with its seven plagues, tell the account of Hashem’s wondrous fury and immense power. The three final makkos are in a separate parsha since they are for the Yidden’s sake, so they understand that Hashem has power over the winds and light and real knowledge of who really is a firstborn. The first seven, though, tell of the fearful might of Hashem when he avenges His children’s honor.
Revenge, the Gemara says, is a great thing. Revenge, the saying goes, is sweet. When the shofet Shimshon was captured by the Phlishtim, he begged Hashem to allow him to take revenge for their gouging out his eyes. When Midyon caused Klal Yisroel to sin, Hashem told Moshe to “avenge yourself of Midyan.” When the Mitzrim died at the Yam Suf, it wasn’t before those they persecuted identified them and had the comfort of revenge.
The revenge against the Mitzrim is recounted in Shiras Hayam in great and gruesome detail — some sank like lead, others like stones. This is since each detail is one for which we must give thanks to Hashem. It wasn’t just a song celebrating the Yidden’s salvation; they actually reveled in the monstrosity of the deaths.
This week, as you hear the parsha read, don’t just thank Hashem for taking Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzraim, thank Him for each makka and the comfort the revenge gave us.