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Torah Portion: Kedoshim
Does that word sound sweet?
The craving for ‘justice’ seems like a natural –even primal – impulse. What else are you supposed to feel when someone cuts you off on the highway, or actually perpetrates harm (G-d forbid)? The universe seems to cry out for balance. We often can’t find rest until the perpetrator gets his just deserts and the victim’s welfare and dignity are restored.
At the same time, the Torah expressly forbids revenge. The Torah asks to us elevate our personal behavior, to rise above the impulse toward grudges and retaliation. So how should we respond to an injustice?
The Torah paints a fine line for us to walk (the judicial system and international military policy deserve their own essay; this piece is addressing challenges in our personal lives). When I experience an offense, I need to recognize it; I shouldn’t play the ‘see no evil’ game, because that prevents me from dealing with the problem. At the same time, I shouldn’t plunge into indignation and anger at the scoundrel who hurt me. Resentment tends to become very mind-consuming and self-destructive, so I’d actually be continuing my abuser’s evil work of damaging my life.
Instead, the Torah tells us to speak up, effectively, and call the violator’s attention to the wrong perpetrated. That means I should try to spark his awareness and recognition, which is beyond simply unloading my anger. I should wait until I’ve calmed down, and then speak with the wrongdoer to help him understand how anti-social and hurtful his behavior was. Maybe I can actually help him avoid repeating his negative behavior.
So the next time I feel that someone hurt me, I need to immediately get a grip on my emotions, staying calm so I can plan an effective response.
I need to acknowledge that I can’t undo the past. Yet, I can assess how to might protect myself for the future. And I can, hopefully, help the perpetrator recognize how hurtful he was.
But I should leave the universal justice to G-d. My wrongdoer will be responsible to G-d – if not the human judicial system – for his harmful choice.
At the same time, I accept that the pain on my end is something G-d has destined for my soul. I need to find a way to get to the other side while retaining my humanity, and perhaps even becoming stronger from the exercise.
Sweet? Maybe not.
Meaningful? I think so.
Rabbi Yanky Klein
This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM