Thursday, April 22, 2021

Meishiv ra'ah tachas tovah

The Netziv has a pshat in "lo tikom v'lo titor" (19:18) that in Harchev Davar he builds up from a Midrash but R' Teichtel quotes it in his derashos b'shem the Netziv based on a story.  I'll do you the favor of putting 2 and 2 together, esp since everyone loves a story.  Pshat in the pasuk: the Netziv explains the smichus of לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ to the previous pasuk of לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא that we are dealing with someone who has done you wrong, who you have a reason to be angry with.  First the Torah says not to harbor hatred in your heart and instead to give the person tochacha and tell them what they did wrong.  Then the Torah adds not to bear a grudge or do something to get back at the other guy, even though you would be in your rights to do so.

Netziv uses this as a springboard to turn our attention to the pasuk in Mishlei, "Meishiv ra'ah tachas tovah lo tamush ra'ah mi'beiso." (Mishlei 17:13)  Chazal comment that it' not a good idea even to be "meishiv ra'ah tachas ra'ah," to respond in kind to someone who has done you wrong, exactly what lo tikom v'lo titor is warning against.  What inspired Chazal's comment is the term "meishiv.Hashava means giving back what you owe, paying your dues.  Meishiv ra'ah tachas tovah makes no sense -- the person who did the tovah is not owed ra'ah back.  The word meishiv only makes sense when speaking about meishiv ra'ah tachas ra'ah, hence the derash.  But how do you understand pshat in the pasuk?

And now the story: R' Yisrael Salanter was once travelling by train, and he did not go with an escort of a gabai, he did not put on airs or wear ostentatious rabbinic garb, so if you did not know who he was, you would not take notice.  A young guy bumped into him on the train, got upset, and heaped scorn and insults on R' Yisrael, who took it in stride.  When the train pulled into Vilna, the young man saw the throngs gathered outside to greet the gaon.  He asked someone to point out to him who R' Yisrael Salanter was, and then almost fainted when they pointed to the individual he took to be the regular passenger who he had insulted.

The next day the young man came to see R' Yisrael, apologized profusely, and begged forgiveness.  R' Yisrael Salanter of course forgave him, but then inquired what the young man was doing in Vilna.  He related that he had come to meet a gvir whose help he needed to get started in business, but unfortunately, that individual was not available, and so the whole trip was for naught.  When R' Yisrael heard the young man's story, he insisted that the young man come with him and he would help introduce him to contacts that would help him.  The young man could not take it -- here he had insulted R' Yisrael, and not only was he being forgiven, but R' Yisrael Salanter wanted to go out of his way to do chessed for him!

R' Yisrael Salanter explained that precisely because the young man had done him wrong, he cannot take no for an answer and must do him a favor.  It's human nature when someone does us wrong to think badly of them.  Lo tikom v'lo titor is almost impossible to avoid.  But we have a rule -- ma'aseh motzi midei machshava.  Actions speak louder than words and can change a mindset.  To avoid lo tikom v'lo titor it's not enough to just forgive, but a person needs to do more -- a person needs to do a tovah for the party that had wronged them.  Only then will they be able to avoid the pitfall of bearing a grudge or thinking of paying the person back in kind.

"Meishiv ra'ah tachas tovah" -- if in place of the tovah that a person should have done to the party that wronged him, which would have quelled the dispute immediately, a person instead pays that party back in kind, he is meishiv the ra'ah that he got tit-for-tat, thinking that now we are even and things will end here, "lo tamush ra'ah mi'beiso," he will find that the dispute will continue and never end.  The payback that was supposed to even things up will be taken as a new slight that deserves a new response, and back and forth the cycle will continue.  

That's not only a great pshat in the pasuk, it's great midos, to be able to respond to an insult not just with forgiveness, but with kindness.


  1. -- "that individual was not available"

    had a baal k'nafayim (Koheles 10:20) told the "gvir" about the "insults" all too readily available to the tongue of our sorry "young guy"?

    -- "a person needs to do more"

    ...v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha

    -- "it's great midos"

    it's certain such "kindness" is no knee-jerk reaction, but could the coals scooped into "the train"'s firebox yesterday, be scooped onto the "young man's" head today (Mishlei 25:22)? ki-hu yodei'a ta'alumos lev (Teh. 44:22)-- Hashem spots even the slightest dynamic of the unconscious mind...

  2. The Netziv you quote, on another wonderful Torah site,
    I do say that the passuk he brings from Mishlei,
    אם רעב שנאך האכילהו לחם כי גחלים אתה חותה על ראשו וה׳ ישלם לך
    seems awfully passive aggressive, no? Which is how the Metzudos learns it - every crumb he has to accept is going to burn his kishkes, and although you're enjoying his shame, it is still counted as tzedakah, like משכנתא בנכייתא. But most meforshim there understand it as just meaning that your enemy will regret his hatred and come to love you.