Thursday, November 21, 2019

Rav Chaim Malinowitz: Understanding suffering and revenge

The following are my recollections of Rav Chaim Malinowitz's words said Shabbos morning in his shul in Beit Shemesh - Shabbos Parshas Matos - July 19th, 2014. He did not review this and any errors are soley mine. I felt that during these difficult days - they are relevant to all of us.

He noted that it had been a difficult two weeks, he just finished Shiva for his brother - Rav Zalman Malinowitz z"l - on Sunday and there was the ground invasion of Gaza.

In this week's parsha (Bamidbar 31:1): G-d commands Moshe to avenge the Jews by attacking Midian because they had risen against the Jewish people. Then in (Bamidbar 31:3) Moshe commands them to attack Midian to avenge G-d. Rashi says, "That when Midian rose against the Jews it was as if they had attacked G-d. Therefore we see that an attack on the Jewish people is to be viewed as an attack against G-d. A person who is attacked because he is a Jew needs to be avenged because we are G-d's people.

While the Jews were clearly commanded to take revenge against Midian [and not Moav see Rashi], there is a problem in understanding the nature of revenge. We know that psychologically revenge is extremely sweet. Yet we know that the Torah prohibits taking revenge [Vayikra 19:18/however see Yoma 23a – difference between Torah Scholar and money] On the other hand we have the gemora that indicates it is a great thing.
Berachos (33a) R. Ammi said: Great is knowledge, since it was placed at the beginning of the weekday blessings. R. Ammi also said: Great is knowledge since it was placed between two names, as it says, For a God of knowledge is the Lord. And if one has not knowledge, it is forbidden to have mercy on him, as it says, For it is a people of no understanding, therefore He that made them will have no compassion upon them. R. Eleazar said: Great is the Sanctuary, since it has been placed between two names, as it says, Thou hast made, O Lord, the sanctuary, O Lord. R. Eleazar also said: Whenever there is in a man knowledge, it is as if the Sanctuary had been built in his days; for knowledge is set between two names, and the Sanctuary is set between two names. R. Aha Karhina'ah demurred to this. According to this, he said, great is vengeance since it has been set between two names, as it says, God of vengeance, O Lord; He replied: That is so; that is to say, it is great in its proper sphere; and this accords with what ‘Ulla said: Why two vengeances here? One for good and one for ill. For good, as it is written, He shined forth from Mount Paran; for ill, as it is written, God of vengeance, O Lord, God of vengeance, shine forth. [Rashi - when revenge is needed it is a great thing]
We see from this gemora that revenge is comparable in greatness to knowledge and the Beis Hamikdosh- but only when it is for the proper reason – otherwise it is bad.

In essence we have two types of revenge. That which is because of personal hurt or embarrassment – which is prohibited and that which is concerning G-d or justice. He noted that Rav S. R. Hirsch says that the root of the word for revenge is קם to stand or raise up. Rav Hirsch says that revenge taken in order to correct an obvious injustice is in fact desirable but one which is done to feel good against someone who has hurt us is wrong. 

He gave other examples. Midian was also attacked as revenge because of selling Yosef – even though it had been done many years before. We also find that the last thing that Dovid did was to instruct Shlomo to take revenge against someone who had commited the capital crime of rebelling against him - but that he had promised not to personally  harm. Both of these cases were not personal revenge for personal satisfaction but rather done entirely to correct an injustice which had been done in the world - that was needed for the greater good.

The other issue he talked about was connected to the recent petirah of his brother. Since it was Shabbos he said he was not going to give a hesped or say words that caused pain. Rather he was going to talk about some lessons which he felt applied to all of us that needed to be inculcated in ourselves and our children.

He noted that many people came during the Shiva. He said the high point of the shiva was the visit of Rav Don Segal. When he came, the non-family members were asked to leave so he could have a private meeting with the family. He noted that Rav Segal said many things and he was asked many questions and they felt a deep comfort and understanding from his words. In the course of half an hour, 3 basics points were expressed that he felt were critical to emphasize that everyone needs to inculcate them in themselves and their children. While they might seem obvious – it is necessary to work on understanding them and see and know them in reality and not just have them as religious beliefs. In fact he asked Rav Segal whether a person should pray that he know them to be true and not just believe them to be true – and Rav Segal said yes.

1) Everything that happens is caused by G-d. 2) G-d has a plan for what happens 3) What happens is good. 

He noted as an illustration of this, that when the great mechanech - Rav Yaakov Bender his brother's employer – had come he told his brother's son who is 15 the following. "My father also died why I was 15 and it was very painful. However over the years I have come to the realization that all that I have accomplished in chinuch and other areas is only because of the sensitivity I acquired from the loss of my father."

We need to actively look and try to understand what G-d's plan is for us and to know it is good.


  1. This is not relevant to anything, but I had the opportunity to meet Rabbi Malinowitz and get to know him a bit several years ago. He is an ilui, a talmid chochom and a mensch. Like most chareidim on the internet, I had a yeshiva experience that was up and down. Rabbi Malinowitz is one of two or three rebbeim out of dozens with whom I wish I'd maintained a kesher.

  2. His death is a great loss to those that knew him. He was the life of the vosikin minyan, always with a smile on his face. I thought of the gemara in Brachos that states that someone once davened vosikin and didn't stop smiling all day. R. Zalman davened vosikin every day and therefore always smiled.


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