Compassion is God’s Revenge

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The Ba’al Shem Tov taught: Compassion is God’s revenge.

Is this not a beautiful teaching for the Jewish New Year?

God doesn’t avenge. God only loves. When God feels your pain, God pours more love into the world.

So don’t bother praying for God to help you harm someone. You’ll have to find a different prayer. Maybe one that asks God to help others let go of their rage, fear, or pain. Or asks God to strengthen your endurance, patience, ingenuity, or negotiating skills.

The Divine way of “getting back at” someone is to offer compassion. If you want to be more spiritual, a better channel for divine qualities, you know what to do. Whenever you feel the impulse to take revenge, express the impulse through an act of compassion.

When someone lashes out, they may imagine you an enemy. If you take revenge, you confirm their image. As confirmed enemies, harm becomes your mode of interaction. But if you refuse to play that way, you thwart the game. You turn it towards good. Kindness becomes the new interface.

It’s a beautiful teaching. Sometimes it works. But it seems simplistic. Revenge is not a linear act of cause and effect, with a neat node of self-reflection in the middle. When we act out of hurt, we may take revenge in all directions. The human heart is complex.

Disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov agreed. So they added complexity, spinning the teaching into a provocative parable.

Once upon a time, a royal minister wanted to arrange the assassination of his king. When the king heard of it, he promoted and rewarded this minister. The minister was so overcome with shame that he killed himself.

What a terrible, unexpected resolution! How should we understand this parable? Why did the minister seek the king’s death? What did the king hope to accomplish by rewarding the minister? Why was the minister ashamed? Why did the minister kill himself?