Shmuel HaKatan says: ‘Do not be glad when your foe falls, and when he stumbles let your heart not be joyous. Lest Hashem see it and be displeasing in His eyes, and He turn is anger from him’ (Mishlei, 24:17-18)
The Mishnah has two clear oddities that require clarification. Firstly, who is Shmuel HaKatan, the “Little” Shmuel, and how or why did he receive this title; and secondly, and more importantly, why is this brought as a Mishnah in Pirkei Avot – Shmuel HaKatan brings no explanation or thoughts of his own, he is simply quoting a pasuk from Mishlei.
To briefly touch on the first question, two different thoughts are brought down explaining his unique name. In commenting on this Mishnah, Rashi explains that the title of HaKatan was not really a description of him, but more a way of showing the greatness of Shmuel HaNavi; that any other Shmuel is small in comparison. Alternatively, Masechet Sotah (9:13) in the Talmud Yerushalmi cites a story which acts as a basis to explain that the title HaKatan in no way describes the way we view Shmuel HaKatan, but more about the way he viewed himself, and that what is being described is his meekness, self effacing nature and humility.
Considering that Shmuel HaKatan gave no further elucidation to these verses from Mishlei, it would seem that he believed that in and of themselves they contain an important lesson that needs no further explanation. This very notion of how to relate to the downfall of our enemies, is discussed in several places throughout the Gemara, some which at face value appear to contradict these verses, some which come to their support, and many different important ideas arise from them.
But rather than focusing on whether or not one should actually rejoice in the downfall of one’s enemies, let us focus on a separate, but very interesting point that arises from Shmuel HaKatan’s words, and the significance of them being brought specifically by him. After the original Shemonah Esrei was compiled by Shimon KaPekuli, the bracha of “VeLamalshinim…”, a request for the failure of our enemies and the humbling of the wicked, was inserted upon the request of Rabban Gamliel. Its authorship is attributed to Shmuel HaKatan – the very person who felt it so important to tell us that we should not be rejoicing at the downfall of our foes.
How can we reconcile this seemingly puzzling occurrence, and what does it teach us? David HaMelech, known to have praised Hashem at every point of his life, says in Tehillim (104:35): “Sins will cease from the earth, and the wicked will be no more; bless Hashem…” and in a somewhat surprisingly similar vein, the Gemara does not even question whether or not David is contradicting the verses from Mishlei.
What this shows us, and this is possible what Shmuel HaKatan was trying to teach us, is that there is a big difference between praising Hashem for the downfall of our foes and our salvation from their influence on our lives, and relatively ‘over-rejoicing’ when this does happen. David was not questioned for praising Hashem in the aforementioned quote from Tehillim, because David praised Hashem at all stages of his life and in every personal context – when he was conceived, when he was born and amongst many others when evil was destroyed from in front of him – he did not save the praising of Hashem for times only when he was in some sort of enemy related dilemma. What Shmuel HaKatan wants us to realise and understand is not that we should not rejoice in the downfall of our enemies, and not that we should not pray that our antagonists are unable to stand before us and defeat us, but that just as we do thank Hashem and celebrate when our prayers are answered and our foes do fail in their attempts, we should also be able to do so in less dire circumstances. Through all stages of life we should be recognising the role that Hashem is playing in everything that is happening around us, just as David HaMelech did, and that for everything that goes on, not just the downfall of enemies, we should equally be recognising, thanking and praising Hashem for his part played.
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