Revenge: Awakening from the Slumber of Lowliness

"And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, L-rd, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee." (Num. 10:35)

"Nekama", revenge, comes from the root "
kum", rising, and rising is the opposite of falling. "A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again" (Prov. 24:16); "Rejoice not against me, O my enemy. Though I am fallen, I shall rise up" (Micah 7:8); and "The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall rise no more." (Amos 5:2). (See Berachot 4b for how this was explained by the sages of Eretz Yisrael.)

Israel's enemies are called those who
"rise up", as in (II Samuel 22:49), "You bring me forth from my enemies; You lift me up above those who rise up against me"; and (Ps. 44:6), "Through You we push down our enemies, through Your name we tread upon those who rise up against us."

As long as a person lies fallen before his attacking enemies, he must rouse himself and rise up from his lowly state. Hence victorious, successful kingdoms are described as being on the rise:
"The kingdom of Israel shall rise up in your hand" (I Samuel 24:20).

When Israel are in abject exile, G-d is also, so to speak. This is because, as Mechilta teaches (Beshalach, Mesechta Deshira, 6),
"Whoever attacks Israel is treated as having attacked G-d". Hence G-d must rise up and take revenge against those who attack Israel, for they attack G-d Himself. This revenge is the climax of G-d's first "rising up". The latter must precede the former.

For this reason, countless times we call on G-d to
"rise up". Pesikta Rabbati (31) teaches:

"Zion said, 'The L-rd has forsaken me, the L-rd has forgotten me' (Isaiah 49:14): This is in line with, 'Arise O L-rd, O G-d, lift up Your hand, Forget not the humble' (Ps. 10:12). R. Pinchas HaKohen said in the name of R. Hoshia: 'Five times did King David call upon G-d to rise up: 'Arise, O L-rd; save me, O my G-d (Ps. 3:8); 'Arise, O L-rd, in Your anger, lift up Yourself in indignation against my enemies' (Ibid., 7:7); 'Arise, O L-rd, let not man prevail' (Ibid., 9:20); 'Arise, O L-rd, O G-d, lift up Your hand' (Ibid., 10:12); 'Arise, O L-rd. Confront him, cast him down' (Ibid., 17:13).

"Why five times? Four correspond to the four empires David prophetically saw would take successive control of Israel and regarding each of which he called upon G-d to rise up. As for the fifth, David saw that Gog and Magog would emerge as powerful empires, and he began calling upon G-d, saying, 'Master of the Universe! It is not our task to confront him, but Yours! Arise, O L-rd! Confront him! Cast him down!'"

This source requires clarification, for King David said,
"Arise, O L-rd" more than these five times. There are also, "Arise for our help" (Ps. 44:27), "Arise, O G-d, plead Your own cause" (Ps. 74:22), and "Arise, O G-d, judge the earth" (Ps. 82:8). Apparently our sages counted specifically "Arise, O L-rd - Kuma Hashem", and not "Arise, O G-d - Kuma Elokim", or just "Arise" alone. Because David is petitioning G-d despite Israel's lacking merit, he mentions "Hashem", G-d's name that invokes mercy, and he prays that G-d should act for the sake of His own name.

Similarly, we find in Bereshit Rabbah (75:1):

"'For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, says the L-rd'
(Ps. 12:6): R. Shimon bar Yona said: 'Now will I arise': As long as the Congregation of Israel lies trodden in the dust, I will not rise. Only on that day regarding which it says (Isaiah 52:2), 'Shake yourself from the dust! Arise and sit down, O Jerusalem!' (Zechariah 2:17), 'all flesh wil be silent before the L-rd, for He will be aroused out of His holy habitation.'"

As it were, G-d, precisely like Israel, lies trodden in the dust. As our sages said regarding the verse (Num. 10:35),
"Arise, O L-rd, and scatter Your enemies! Let Your foes flee before You", "As long as Israel are enslaved, G-d goes into slavery with them" (Sifri, Be'ha'alot'cha, 84). We, therefore, cry out to G-d to arise, to rise up and take revenge (Ps. 44:24): "Awake, why do You sleep, O L-rd?"

In the
Mishnah (Ma'aser Sheni 5:15, Sotah 47a), we find, "Yochanan the Kohen Gadol removed the declaration for removing tithes (Deut. 26:12-15), and stopped the wakers." The Talmud asks (Sotah 48a):

"Who were the 'wakers'? Rachavah answered, 'Each day levi'im would stand at their post and say, 'Awake! Why do You sleep, O L-rd?' (Ps. 44:24). [Yochanan] asked them, 'Can G-d be said to sleep? Does it not say (Ps. 121:4), 'Behold, He Who guards Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps'? 'Awake! Why do You sleep?' is relevant only when Israel suffers while the nations enjoy peace and contentment.'"

Obviously, the idea of G-d "sleeping" is relevant as long as Israel are beset with suffering, most of the nation are in exile, the Temple is destroyed, and the nations provoke and imperil the Jewish People. Likewise, it is clear that when the Jewish People do not do G-d's will, G-d "sleeps", so to speak, His face hidden:
"When Israel do G-d's will, G-d does not sleep, as it says, 'He Who guards Israel neigther sleeps nor slumbers'" (Ps. 121:4), (Yalkut Shimoni 823). In this lowly generation, then, how greatly we must cry out, "Awake! Why do You sleep, O L-rd?"

We are commanded to cry out and arouse G-d as did the prophet Isaiah (66:15):
"Look down from Heaven and see, even from Your holy and glorious habitation. Where are Your zeal and Your mighty acts?" and (62:6-7), "I have set watchmen upon Your walls, O Jerusalem. They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who are the L-rd's renders, take you no rest! Give Him no rest till He establish and make Jerusalem a praise on earth." Metzudat David comments, "Do not allow G-d to relent from building Jerusalem. Implore Him until He completely rebuilds it, making it a source of glory and praise in the midst of the earth." Regarding this verse our sages say (Menachot 87a), "What do [these watchmen] say? So said Rava bar bar Shila: 'Arise and have compassion on Zion!'"

G-d truly must rise and awaken, as it says (Ps. 78:65),
"Then the L-rd awoke as one asleep, like a mighty man recovering from wine." Let Him rise and be zealous! Let Him rise and take revenge! As Zephaniah said (3:8):

"Therefore wait for Me, says the L-rd, until the day that I rise up to the prey. For My intent is to gather the nations and assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them My indignation, even My fierce anger. All the earth shall be devoured by My fiery zeal."

"Until the day that I rise up to the prey." G-d's rising up from degradation and profanation of His name, and His taking revenge on the wicked, lead to the sanctification of His name. Only through revenge, in the right time and place, and through the defeat of evil and evildoers, can G-d sanctify His name, profaned among the nations.

The rule is this: Whoever conquers his evil impulse and his false thinking, will go on to uproot evil and take revenge on evildoers because of G-d's command, clinging to G-d's traits and without any personal interest. Then he will be called merciful and saintly for having eradicated evil.

King David said (Ps. 149:6-7),
"Let the high praises of G-d be in their mouth, and a double-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the nations..." Our sages comment on this (Berachot 5a), "When someone recites the Shema on his bed, it is as though he grasps a double-edged sword in his hand." Clearly, whoever grasps a double-edged sword must accept the yoke of Heaven, which is the crux of reciting the Shema, and he must cling to the laws of war as G-d established them.

To our sorrow, and once more due to the terrible exile in which we were blinded by the alien culture, G-d's attributes have been corrupted and distorted, deliberately so by those who cast off G-d's yoke and with depressing ignorance by a large portion of the holy camp. It has reached the point in which war and revenge against the nations and the sanctification of G-d's name through Jewish victory have entirely disappeared from our agenda. Yet, in the original Jewish idea, precisely as we received from Sinai laws of the Sabbath and of separating meat and milk, so were we given laws of war and revenge, which are practical laws during this pre-Messianic era in which we live.

By Rabbi Meir Kahane
The Jewish Idea
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