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Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying. "Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people" (Bemidbar 31:1-2). Moshe sent them -- a thousand from each tribe for the legion -- them and Pinchas son of Elazar the Kohen to the legion, and the sacred vessels and the trumpets for sounding in his hand (Ibid. 6).
The Midrash asks why Moshe sent Pinchas to fight against the Midianites when Hashem had told him to do so. The answer is that since Moshe had been given refuge and raised in Midian, he could not be the one to personally do battle with them as the saying goes, "Do not spit into the well from which you have drunk."

We have discussed before the importance of being makir tov, recognizing the good which one has done us and appreciating it (see, especially, Parashas Ki Savo, 5761). One who does not appreciate the good which another has bestowed upon him, including Hashem, is an ingrate. That is a terrible character trait.

But this week's Midrash is referring to an entirely different situation; one which is much more severe and despicable. Chazal are discussing one who not only does not repay his benefactor with kindness, but returns bad for the good he received from him.

We find similarly that when Moshe brought the ten plagues upon the Egyptians he would not hit the waters of the Nile to turn them into blood nor to produce frogs since they had protected him when he was a newly born child cast into the river in a casket. Neither did he hit the ground to bring forth the lice since it had hid the Egyptian whom he had killed for hitting a Jew. In all of these cases, he told his brother Aharon to use his staff and bring upon the plagues since he could not spit into the well from which he had drunk.

King Shlomo says (Mishlei 17:13), "Whoever rewards evil for good; evil shall not depart from his house." The Metsudos Dovid explains practically that when people see how he acts, no one will ever want to help him. Consequently, evil shall not depart from his house because one cannot survive on his own without others caring for him when he has a problem.

But the Ralbag offers a second explanation that the evil which never departs from his house is actually a terrible punishment from Hashem for acting in such a contemptible way. He deserves this treatment for one who ignores the favors of man will similarly ignore the favors of Hashem and eventually deny His very Being.

The following true and scary story (with changed names) illustrates this all-important lesson.

When Yosef was a child in yeshiva, there was an older bachur, Shemuel Salzmann, who befriended him. His positive influence helped him be successful there. Decades later, Shemuel was a millionaire, who gave lots of money to charity and Torah institutions while Yosef was a rabbi who was serving his community through various projects. Many people invested in Shemuel's business and shared in his vast profits. Unfortunately, for some reason, Shemuel got involved with unethical people, and everything went bust. Shemuel went bankrupt and his investors lost all of their funding together with him. Shemuel was bombarded with ill-wishers, including members of the Mafia who threatened his life and the lives of his loved ones. He was forced to divorce his wife, for her safety and the safety of their children, and leave town. It was a tragic end for one who had had such a splendid beginning but somehow had made a grave mistake and stepped off the straight path for one which seemed more profitable.

Many judged Shemuel and decided that he deserved what he had gotten. But many had compassion on a basically good man who had made the wrong choices, and they certainly pitied the innocent family members who were innocent victims of Shemuel's mistakes. Yosef was among those who sympathized with Shemuel and his family, especially since Shemuel had helped him, not only when he was a child, but, just before he lost his fortune, Shemuel had given him some funds for his projects. However, at that time, there was nothing Yosef could do to help them.

About twenty years later, Yosef was in a position to offer jobs to capable candidates. To his surprise, one of the applicants was a young man named Yehudah Salzmann. During the interview, Yosef discovered that Yehudah was none other than Shemuel's son. Yosef was happy to hear that Shemuel had remarried and was rebuilding his shattered life. Yehudah had been studying and training for exactly the kind of job Yosef was interviewing him for and this was his first attempt to get hired. Yosef knew that people still had bitter memories of Shemuel and was afraid that Yehudah would not easily get ahead in life. Although the Torah commands that sons should not suffer for the sins of their parents, zealous people, even religious ones, often violate this important edict. Since Yehudah was definitely fit for the job, Yosef decided that he would make an extra effort to see that he gets the job. After all, he had hakaras hatov to Shemuel and was happy that he could finally repay kindness with kindness. He gave Yehudah his highest possible recommendations and personally presented his case to his superiors and was thrilled when Yehudah was hired and sent out-of-town to begin his new career.

Yosef's job didn't end with recruiting manpower. He also had to visit the various plants, from time to time, and supervise those he had hired to ascertain if they were doing a good job or not. He was very pleased, and not at all surprised, to find that Yehudah was doing an excellent job. Yosef asked Yehudah if his father knew what he was doing and who had gotten him the job. The answer was affirmative and Yehudah mentioned that his father was very appreciative and wanted to thank Yosef personally. Yosef replied that no thanks was necessary. On the contrary, he was the one repaying an old debt and was very glad that the Hashgachah (Divine Providence) had provided him the opportunity to do so. One thing puzzled him though. Yehudah's wife was not friendly to him. He would have expected her to be grateful for what he had done for them, yet she seemed almost hostile. With no explanation at hand, Yosef rejected his thoughts as being figments of his imagination.

But he was wrong. The snub was real. You see, Yehudah was not at all as scrupulous as Yosef. While speaking to people who worked with him, Yehudah discovered that Yosef had some skeletons of his own in his closet and no shortage of enemies who would not have been happy to know that he was well employed in his present position. He related his "juicy discovery" to his wife who warned him to keep away from Yosef. But that wasn't enough. Yehudah wasted no time and actually called Yosef's arch-rival and slandered his very own benefactor. Things moved very quickly, and by the time Yosef was back home, his boss informed him that he had been forced by "higher authorities" to fire him. He promised that he would fight to get him back but at the moment his hands were tied. Yosef was devastated. But he was totally shocked when his investigations showed unequivocally that it was none other than Yehudah who had stabbed him in the back.

After months of aggravation and substantial monetary loss, Yosef was re-hired, but with conditions less favorable than he had had before, while Yehudah moved on to a job with another company. Yosef consulted with a Gadol (a great one; a Torah authority) who suggested that when Yehudah comes to town for a visit Yosef should summon him to Beis Din (a Jewish court of justice) and demand recompense for the loss he had caused him by his unjustifiable slander. But when Yosef discussed this proposition with the judges they advised him not to make a case which would surely reawaken the problems of his past which were beginning to die down. Disillusioned, Yosef looked for quieter methods to collect damages from Yehudah.

Several years later, Yosef was visited by someone who was Yehudah's mentor and had taught him and trained him for the job which Yosef had gotten for him. In his bitterness, Yosef told him all that had transpired between them and asked for his advice on how he could get what he was owed. Yehudah's mentor was amazed at what he heard and told Yosef that he had just resolved an enigma which had been puzzling him for years. Yehudah had been one of his prize students. He was intelligent, pleasant, good-looking, charismatic and voted most likely to succeed in his class. Yet, since he took that second job, he was failing at everything he did. Although he had tried totally different fields, all of which he should have excelled in, it seemed as if there was a curse upon him. Now, his mentor said, he finally understood the source of that curse. King Shlomo had declared, "Whoever rewards evil for good; evil shall not depart from his house," and they were witnessing its truth before their very eyes. Yosef, on the other hand, was succeeding in his job and advancing steadily, in spite of his former setback.

The mentor advised Yosef to listen to the advice of the judge who had told him not to make an issue of what had transpired, but to put his faith in Hashem Who was obviously "on the case" and was placing evil on the wicked one according to his wickedness while rewarding the righteous one according to his good deeds (cf. Yigdal in the Morning Prayer).

Yosef heeded that sage advice and went on with his life, trusting in the True Judge. P.S. Yosef recently heard that Yehudah's wife divorced him.

May we always follow the path of the Torah. Then, and only then, will we be truly successful and happy, in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel