By: William Jackson
Anger conjures up emotions that are less than godly, yet isn’t anger a natural feeling? If somebody or something hurts us it is our “knee-jerk” reaction to retaliate, “is this wrong?” Didn’t Hashem put these feelings within us to respond against perceived injustices? We do know that if we are passive to those that take advantage of us it invites more of the same. Then there are those that say we should just surrender these feelings, but what if that doesn’t work? A lot of times in our need to appear godly, we suppress these feelings pretending to be over issues when in truth those feelings are deep within us brewing. I don’t think stifling ourselves is a solution, but not being taught the correct coping skills we are at a dead end. Not to worry, relief is at hand, Hashem gives us the solution in His word.
The Jewish people have developed a list of 613 Mitzvot (commandments) from the Torah. At least eleven of these deal with our relationships with other human beings (1). These Mitzvot are drawn from just three simple verses in Torah, Leviticus 19:16-18. For help on this topic King David and King Solomon pass on methods of being successful in dealing with the earthly emotion of anger in their Psalms and Proverbs. The good news is that anger is not a wrong feeling. Just remember, you are not responsible for the bad things people do to you, however you are responsible for how you react.
There is an old joke that goes;
A man was bothered by a loud noise coming from his car engine. He asked advice from a friend, the friend was quick to respond “that’s easy, just turn up your radio”.
We have all heard this joke; but as silly as it sounds, many of us have (or) do deal with anger issues the same way. In this joke, and in life, we do know that this inner noise will eventually end up causing bigger problems regardless of how much we distract ourselves. The right answer is to fix the problem that creates the noise. Our anger is no different.
The key verse here is Leviticus 19:17;
“‘Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won’t carry sin because of him…”
By rebuke Hashem doesn’t mean “chew-out”. The Hebrew word is actually “yakach” which means to decide, adjudge, prove or simply said to address the issue. In Proverbs 20:3 it states that it brings honor to not argue because fools explode with anger, also Proverbs 15:18, 29:22. So from this point of view we are not to argue the point, we are to simply address the issue. This may require a little mental rehearsal and prayer if time is available. These are few bullet comments that will help us the keep confrontation in the context of resolution verses retaliation.
- Keep it private
- Be respectful, whether they deserve it or not.
- If time is available put yourself in the right mindset, pray first.
Many times we don’t want the confrontation, whether because of fear, not being heard or retaliation. If we become stuck at this point we do not have the license to find counterproductive method to retaliate. It is better to be in neutral going nowhere then it is to go in reverse thinking you’re making progress. Park it in neutral and go to Hashem in prayer, than come back to it. Remember we are to emulate our Creator. Scripture repeats that Hashem is slow to anger (Psalm 86:15, 103:8, Jonah 4:2) so we need to be slow to anger (Ecclesiastes 7:9, Proverbs 14:29).
Roots of Anger:
Another concern is where is the anger coming from? There are two forms of anger we will label them “warranted” and “masked”. Warranted is the easiest one to define and usually the easiest to resolve. This form of anger is typically when somebody deals us an injustice whether intended or not. Some examples of warranted anger are being betrayed, harmed, robbed and somebody gossiping about you. We need to confront these problem by solving them not attacking them.
Masked anger is a lot more allusive and can distort the problem if it is addressed incorrectly. This is anger whose roots are found in other emotion. The Hebrew word for anger ” ka’ac” and this not only means anger it means sorrow and grief (2). International author Liza Palmer, takes it a step further and says that “Angry is just sad’s bodyguard.” (3). A lot of times we need to evaluate what our anger is really masked as.
Impatience = Entitlement
Intolerance = Arrogance
Anxiety = Fear
For example, let’s take “impatience”, when we are behind somebody in traffic or at the “check-out” counter sometimes our anger can ferment anger. Is it really because of that person or is it something else. Sometimes it’s because we are running late or maybe it’s because something else happened that day and this has become a catalyst for your anger. Yes, many time we have the right to be motivated by impatience, intolerance and anxiety but if we come across as entitled, arrogant or fearful we are not going to be affective in “yakach”/proving (4) our point of view.
As we view Ecclesiastes we see that “ka’ac” is beneficial for wisdom and making us a better person, Ecclesiastes 1:18, 7:3. Blotting out these feelings aside from deny us maturity and growth, can be counterproductive. Just consider that anger is much like fire, it can be used for good. However, like with fire, if it’s uncontrolled it will destroy, but harnessed it can forge steel. Learning to harness our anger is critical in our development.
- References(1) A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments), Love and Brotherhood, Judaism 101 (Mitzvot 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38)(2) Jewish Concepts: Anger, Jewish Virtual Library(3) Liza Palmer, JBRish.com – A life of queries, quips & quandaries