Hashem commanded Moshe, “נקום נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים take the revenge of Bnei Yisrael from the people of Midyan,” which infers that this is the Bnei Yisrael’s revenge. However the following passuk states that Moshe commanded the nation, “Arm yourselves לתת נקמת ה’ במדין to give the revenge of Hashem against Midyan,” which infers that this is Hashem’s revenge. This seems to be a contradiction; was it Hashem’s revenge or Bnei Yisrael’s revenge?
The passuk states in Az Yashir, “וברוב גאונך תהרס קמיך, with Your great haughtiness You smash those who stand up against You.” The Mechilta brings on this passuk: it does not state קמינו those who stand up against us, rather קמיך those who stand up against You, Hashem. This teaches that whoever stands up against Yisrael is as though he stands up against Hashem. Rashi explains that since one who stands up against Yisrael is as though he is standing up against Hashem, therefore נקמת בני ישראל refers to Hashem’s revenge.
Onkelos translates the words לתת נקמת ה’ as “to give punishment for the judgment of the nation of Hashem.” The Nesinah LaGer explains that Onkelos does not translate as the literal meaning “to give the revenge of Hashem,” since Hashem is not physical and it is improper to state that Hashem needs revenge as though He is affected. Rather נקמת ה’ refers to the revenge of the nation of Hashem, the Bnei Yisrael.
The Midrash Tanchuma brings: Hashem said to Moshe “take revenge for נקמת בני ישראל“ and Moshe said נקמת ה’. Hashem said, “I am seeking your judgment since they caused Me to hurt you.” Moshe responded, “Had we been not circumcised, or had we been idol worshipers, or had we denied mitzvos they would not have run after us. It is only because of the Torah and mitzvos that You gave us that this occurred, therefore the revenge is Yours.” The Nefesh HaGer explains that Onkelos resolves the contradiction by translating נקמת ה’ as דין עמא דה’ פרענות, the punishment for the judgment of the nation of Hashem, referring to Bnei Yisrael. This is as Hashem said in the previous passuk נקמת בני ישראל. Hashem was seeking out the judgment for causing 24,000 people from Bnei Yisrael to sin with the daughters of Midyan and be killed. Onkelos does not explain the revenge of Hashem, because then Moshe would respond by blaming Hashem, as the Tanchuma brought, casting harsh words against Hashem. Onkelos always distances translating with any degrading of Hashem’s honor.
The Gemara brings that in our tefillin it is written ה’ אלוקינו ה’ אחד Hashem is one, whereas in Hashem’s tefillin it is written ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ who is like Your nation Yisrael, the unique nation in the land. Hashem praises and gives recognition to Bnei Yisrael, and we praise and give recognition to Hashem. With this we can answer the above contradiction; Hashem says that the revenge is for Bnei Yisrael whereas Moshe says that the revenge is for Hashem. Hashem looks out for our good and we return the good to Hashem!
May Hashem punish and take revenge against our enemies and bring the geulah bimheira v’yamaeinu, amen!