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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.' Moshe spoke to the people, saying, 'Arm men from among yourselves for the legion that they may be against Midian to inflict Hashem's vengeance against Midian'" (Bemidbar 31:1-3).

Rashi explains that one who acts against the Jewish Nation is in effect acting against Hashem. Therefore, Moshe declared that the revenge against Midian was being carried out as if Midian had acted against Hashem Himself.

In the Bais Hamusser Newsletter, Rav Wolbe zt"l is quoted as adding that the Jews are the ambassadors of Hashem in this world. It is they who bring the knowledge of Hashem to the entire world. An assault against a country's ambassador is regarded as an attack against the entire country. Likewise, he who rises up against the Jewish Nation has risen up against the Creator of the world Himself.

Rav Wolbe explains further that the Torah's "revenge" is the act of purging evil from the world, from a nation, or even from a single perpetrator. Actually, all of the Torah's punishments are merely a way of cleansing the evil from the transgressor. Other nations claim that all the Torah's punishments are rooted in simple revenge, as it is written, "An eye for an eye, a hand for a hand." However, our Sages teach us that "an eye for an eye" merely means that one must pay monetary reparation for the damage caused. Sentencing a murderer to a lifetime in jail is a lot closer to an act of revenge than the Torah's punishment for murder. Those who are killed by the beis din (the Jewish Court of Justice) still have a portion in the World-to-Come. They were not put to death because "we'll show them." Rather, their deaths act as a cleaning agent which allows them entry into the World-to-Come; the ultimate goal of every Jewish person.

Rav Wolbe warns that, similarly, a parent must not punish a child with the intention of taking revenge. Sometimes one tells his child to do something, and the child defiantly ignores the parent, or even answers "No!" Another common embarrassing occurrence is when a child acts in front of others in a way that does not live up to his parent's expectations. The parent is personally offended and quickly metes out a "fair" punishment, which is often merely revenge in disguise. In this respect there is no difference between one's friend and one's child; punishment solely for the sake of payback is forbidden. The infraction must be dealt with, but with the sincere desire to correct the misdemeanor and not the craving to heal one's wounded ego.

The Mashgiach zt"l related that someone was once talking to Rav Aba Grossbard zt"l and said something which offended the Rabbi. Sometime later, the offender needed a letter of recommendation from Rav Grossbard. The Rav tried avoiding the request with all types of excuses: "Do you really need it?" "I don't usually write letters," etc. It was obvious that it was difficult for him to say no, but he forced himself to do so in order that the offender would realize that he had acted improperly. This tactic was successful and the offender asked for forgiveness. This is the proper method of "punishment" and it is a demonstration for every parent to learn.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel