Dear Rabbi

Is there ever any sense or justification for bearing a grudge? My wife and my sister-in-law haven’t spoken in months. I thought Yom Kippur would thaw things but my wife is holding onto her grudge. Does Halacha have a perspective on this? Can you cite me sources please that I can share with her.


Dear Katie

The Talmud (Megila 28a) quotes Rabbi Nechunya HaGodol’s secrets for longevity, one of which was that he didn’t bear a grudge (“I was forgiving with my money”). Code of Jewish law (Orach Chaim 606:1) says one should not be resistant to forgiveness. The Rama (ibid) rules: One should not be stubborn about forgiveness. Maimonides (Laws of Teshuva 2:10) defines someone who refuses to forgive as “cruel.” The Midrash (Tanchuma Chukas) cites the Biblical story of Abraham and Avimelech observing that “as soon as the Philistines said ‘we have sinned’ Avraham immediately forgave them.” The Sefer HaTanya (Chapter 12) quoting the Zohar says, “as soon as there arises from his heart to his mind some animosity…or a grudge and suchlike, he gives them no entry into his mind.”

From a psychological perspective, sensible people don’t hold grudges and understand that it’s better to forgive and forget than to let their negative emotions crowd out their positive feelings. Holding a grudge has a lot of detrimental effects on your wellbeing, including increased depression, anxiety, and stress. Why let anyone who has wronged you have power over you?

As the Tzemach Tzedek once said: “Adults hold grudges whereas children don’t hold grudges.” And he asked: “But adults are mature, children are immature. Why then does the child abandon the grudge while the adult can let it linger for day, weeks, sometimes even years?” And he answered: “Because children would rather be happy than be right. Adults would rather be right than be happy!” The grudge drags me down, it makes me feel despondent. But I don’t care! I’ll hold it for as long as I can, because I am right!” You want to be happy in life, go rediscover the child within.

Spiritually speaking, one should not harbour a grudge because of the principle of mida kineged mida – measure for measure. If we act more forgivingly towards others, then G-d will act the same towards us.

Finally, there’s the Sefer Hachinuch which makes the point that as everything is ultimately divinely ordained we need not bear any grudges, recognising that this too is part of some Divine plan. In the words of Joseph to his brothers when they pleaded before him, begging his forgiveness for selling him to Egypt: “You didn’t send me here, G-d did.” That’s high ground but each of us can get there.


Dear Rabbi

In the words of the Torah portion last week, it says, “and he shall rule over you.” This has always troubled me. Does that mean that the husband gets to put his foot down? Does the wife ever get to put her foot down? Are there any exceptions?


Dear Amy

Neve is keen for a third child. Judy puts her foot down: “We agreed only two!” Batya stopped covering her hair. Zalman puts his foot down: “This is unacceptable! You’re not the woman I married!” (Names have been changed to protect identity). These are two, more extreme examples where one might assume there is no room for compromise. They both involve critical decisions, one life altering and the other, fundamental Halacha. The aggrieved parties ought to be able to put their foot down because of a basic breach of trust. Yet one ought to consider, where will that lead? In either instance there is an inevitable impact on sholom bayis which supersedes all else. Needless to say in such extreme cases professional and spiritual authorities ought to be consulted. That is the essence of compromise. In lesser examples, a compromise can and must always be sought between the couple themselves.

There is an ancient custom for a groom to step with his right foot on the left foot of the bride just before the finale of a Chupah, to reflect his dominance over her. Those who advocate for this have their spiritual reasons. The dissenters of the custom suggest it is a breach of the Biblical verse, Tamim tiheye im Hashem Elo-kecha – “You shall be whole with G-d…”

This begs clarity. No explanation is offered as to the correlation between the custom and the mitzvah of Tamim tihyeh – being whole with G-d. I would posit, per the observation of our Sages: “If man and woman are worthy then the Divine presence dwells amongst them.” This is alluded to by the fact that ish meaning man and isha meaning woman are made up of the same letters but that Ish (man) has the Hebrew letter Yud and Isha (woman) has the Hebrew letter hay, the two letters making up the name of G-d. Thus when man and woman are on equal footing, the two letters of G-d’s name are together – whole – tamim tiheyeh. As I often say to a groom before he steps on the glass, “may this be your only and final time putting your foot down!”