You Can’t Harm Me, You Can’t Help Me

“Do not take revenge.” (Vayikra 19:18)

One day, you ask to borrow my shovel. I refuse. The next day, I say to you, “May I borrow your hammer?” You respond, “Yesterday, when I asked you for a shovel, you wouldn’t help me. I’m going to pay you back in kind. Now that you need something, I won’t help.” This is revenge. (Yoma 23a)

The Sefer HaChinuch (241) explains that the Torah forbids us from taking revenge because everything that happens to us, good or bad, is directed by Hashem. No one can harm us without Hashem’s will. Therefore, when someone causes us pain or suffering, we shouldn’t seek to pay him back. We should recognize that that person isn’t the cause of the damage. It has been directed to us by Hashem.

The Sefer HaChinuch is teaching us that by taking revenge, I am denying Hashem’s involvement in my life. If Hashem runs the world, and everything comes from Him, why should I seek to hurt this man who “harmed” me? He is but the messenger. The misfortune was directed to me by my Creator.

By seeking revenge, I impute power to man. I am acknowledging that he can hurt me. That is a misunderstanding of the way that Hashem runs the world. I need to understand that it is Hashem alone Who controls my fate.

You can’t harm me

This concept is one of the foundations of bitachon—understanding that Hashem decides what is best for me, and decrees what will befall me. Things don’t just happen. Nothing just occurs. Hashem decrees my fate and nothing can change that. “No person, animal or other creation can harm me, without Hashem’s approval” (Chovos HaLevovos, Sha’ar HaBitachon 3).

In simple terms, Hashem is there with me, 24/7, guiding my life, protecting me—and nothing can touch me, unless it is directed by Hashem. Stormy seas can’t drown me. Hurricanes can’t flood my home. Wild fires can’t burn me. Drunk drivers can’t kill me. Bears can’t maul my children. No harm can befall me, unless it was decreed by Hashem.

On its most practical level, this means that my fate is not in the hands of man. No human being can alter my state. If I was slated to be wealthy—you can’t take that from me. If I was determined to enjoy honor—you can’t defame me. If I wasn’t supposed to suffer—you can’t cause me pain.

You may dream and scheme, but Hashem is here protecting me, guiding all outcomes. If I am to suffer, then it will happen regardless of your attempts. If it wasn’t meant to be, nothing you do can change that. Every ounce of pain and suffering is weighed and meted out by Hashem. No one can alter that.

I walk around in a bubble

A way to relate to this is to imagine that you are surrounded by a plastic bubble. When you walk down the street, you can see out of the bubble, you can hear what’s going on around you, but no one can reach in. They can try to throw a rock at you, but it won’t penetrate. They can try to hit you—it won’t happen. They can’t touch you; you are shielded by the bubble. That bubble is comparable to Hashem. Hashem is protecting you—24/7, 365, all day, every day.

And, this protection runs across the gamut of life. No one can cause you to lose a customer or a business deal. No one can cause you to be fired. No one can cause you to lose a shidduch. There may be people who wish for your harm, but they are powerless to change what Hashem has decreed.

This is what the Sefer HaChinuch is teaching us. The only reason I would seek revenge is because you hurt me, you wronged me, you took something from me. If I recognize that Hashem alone determines every outcome, I would never get angry. I might feel disappointment that you have chosen poorly, but anger only comes from the sense that you have done something to me. And that sense is illusionary. Hashem runs this world—not man.

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