Seek Not Revenge
It is very easy for a person to be good and kind to people who are his friends. It is much more difficult to act this way toward people who have hurt him or have angered him. Yet, if we only had to be good to our friends, we would not have needed any laws to command us, for we would have willingly done it on our own. The reason that the Torah is forced to tell us, “Thou shalt not seek revenge” or “Thou shalt not hate thy neighbor in your heart,” is that we should remember these injunctions ass regards our adversaries.
This is the story of one who repaid good for the evil that was done to him. This is a great attribute for a man to acquire. When you see that this good-ness was paid to a former wife, who had made life miserable for him, we can appreciate the greatness of Rabbi Yosi Haglili.
Repaying Good For Evil
In the time of the Talmud, there lived a great rabbi by the name of Yosi Haglili. He was a great scholar and a very righteous man. Because of the good name that he had, hundreds of students flocked to him to learn Torah.
There was only one thing that marred Rabbi Yosi’s life. He was married to a woman who was a terrible shrew. She went out of her way to make life miserable for the great scholar.
One day, as he was sitting with his students, she suddenly burst into the room and publicly shamed him before their very eyes. The students were terribly embarrassed for their teacher but said nothing. However, when she would continually insult and curse him before their eyes, they finally said to him:
“O Rabbi, forgive us for speaking, but we can-not bear to see you shamed in this manner. Why do you continue to bear these insults? Would it not be better to divorce her and be rid of her once and for all?”
Rabbi Yosi only sighed and answered: “Would that I could! I am a poor man, and have not the money to pay the amount written in her kesuba (marriage contract).”
The days passed and Rabbi Yosi was forced to suffer the taunts and tongue of his shrewish wife. One day, the great Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya came to visit Rabbi Yosi and hear Torah from him.
When the lecture had ended, Rabbi Yosi invited Rabbi Elazar to stay for dinner. Going to the kitchen, he spoke to his wife, saying:
“I have invited a guest for dinner, the great Rabbi Elazar. Please serve him with us.”
When the wife heard this, she began to rave wildly and said:
“Is that all I have to do, to feed uninvited strangers?” And with this, she turned to leave the house.
“I beg of you not to shame me in front of this man,” cried Rabbi Yosi. “If you do not wish to serve him, tell me what we have to eat and I will serve him myself.”
“We have nothing but vegetables,” retorted the wife, as she stormed out of the house.
Rabbi Yosi went to the stove and lifted the cover off the pot that was on it. There were no vegetables – but roast chickens.
Taking the chickens out to his guest, Rabbi Yosi served him. Rabbi Elazar, who had heard everything, laughed and said:
“It appears that the Almighty has been good to us. He has turned vegetables into chickens!”
Then, turning serious, Rabbi Elazar said:
“Rabbi Yosi, why do you allow this woman to torment you so? Divorce her.”
Once again, Rabbi Yosi explained that he lacked the money for the kesuba. When Rabbi Elazar heard this, he asked:
“If, by chance, you were able to find a man who would loan you the money, would your wife accept it and the divorce?”
“The woman hates me. Many a time she has said that if only I would give her her marriage payment, she would gladly be free of me.”
When Rabbi Elazar heard this, he laid the required money on the table and said:
“Here is the money. Give it to her together with the divorce decree and be free of her forever.”
And so, Rabbi Yosi divorced his wife and he began to know happy days again. Not so was the outcome of the divorce for the woman. Because of her nature, no one wanted to have anything to do with her, and her sharp tongue prevented her from finding means of employment. Thus, her money quickly dwindled and then was gone.
Now desperate, she was finally forced to become the wife of a lowly watchman, already advanced in years, and barely earning enough to buy bread for the two of them.
When the woman contemplated her current lot, and remembered the former days, she grew bitter at the thought of what she had turned away. But the darkest days were still ahead of her. With the advance of years, the watchman became blind and could no longer fulfill his duties. Thus, the two were left without a means of livelihood.
“There is only one thing that we can do now,” said the watchman. “You must take me by the hand every morning and lead me to the market place. There we will wait until people have pity on us and give us enough money and food.”
When the woman heard this, she cried: “What! I go begging in the streets! I will never do this!”
“If you do not do this, I will beat you as you deserve, you shrew,” cried the watchman.
And so the woman had no choice. Every morning they would go out to beg, and the people who saw this faded woman whispered:
“Can this be the former wife of Rabbi Yosi Haglili?”
One day, the watchman said to his wife, “I notice that in all these months, you have never guided me to the home of Rabbi Haglili. I understand that he is a man of great charity. Take me there so that we may benefit from his goodness.”
When the wife heard this, she turned pale and said:
“I would rather starve than go to that house.”
The blind man, tired of her complaining, began to beat the woman unmercifully. As she began to scream, the entire neighborhood arose to find out what was happening.
They took the two before Rabbi Yosi and there, to his amazement, the scholars learned that this was his former wife.
The Past Forgotten
Despite all the evil that she had done to him in the years gone by, Rabbi Yosi now forgot the past. He turned to the blind man and said, “How are you not ashamed to hit your wife? Can you not see that she is an unfortunate and tragic person?”
The blind man was deeply ashamed, and answered, “I am sorry. It is only that I have kept asking her to bring me to the home of Rabbi Yosi Haglili, who will give us food and money. But she continually refuses to heed my requests.”
When Rabbi Yosi heard this, he said, “If I give you and your wife a place to live and food to eat, will you promise me that you will respect your wife forever?”
“If you will do this for us,” replied the blind man, “I give you my word that I will live with my wife in peace forever.”
And so, Rabbi Yosi bought the couple a modest dwelling in the neighborhood and every day would see to it that enough food for them was provided. The two lived until the end of their days in peace, and Rabbi Yosi was happy for them.
This is how a man pays back good for evil. It is a difficult thing, perhaps, to overlook hurts and wounds, but if we were never to forgive, we would live in a world that knows only fear and revenge. If the Almighty sees fit to forgive man’s sins, are we any better?
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Page last updated - 07/20/2006