Angry America & Jewish Wisdom
08/17/10
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America is sick and tired and isn’t going to take it any more… Whatever “it” is. From the Tea Party movement and the Glenn Beck circus on Fox TV (below, right) to the folk hero response JetBlue steward Steven Slater (below, left) received for his dramatic exit from employment, we are one fed-up nation. What does Jewish wisdom tell us about human rage? Are there any good techniques for anger management? Here are a few excerpts from our expert rabbis. Share your feelings at connect@jinsider.com.

Venting on Venting

“We have an angry generation. People just get angry all the time. I think it has something to do with the fact that the world of psychology encourages venting. ‘Just vent your feelings; it’s not good for you to have all that pent-up emotion.’ But the Torah says just the opposite: discipline, discipline, discipline. Because the more you vent, the more you are going to need to vent, and you’re going to lose total control, and any time anything will disturb you, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you are losing it. Man has to be in control of himself at all times. Torah teaches us to never speak in anger; to sleep on it, to wait until you are sufficiently calm to address the situation with a collected mind, with patience, and without the blindness (because anger makes you blind) of hatred.”

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis is a prolific author and founder of Hineni, a Jewish educational and spiritual outreach organization. For the High Holidays, Hineni offers a truly unique religious service at the Essex House. (www.hineni.org)

Worshipping Idols

“Anger is a very interesting subject. Moses Maimonides, in the first two chapters of his book, “Hilchot De’ot,” part of his law codification of the Torah, tells us that in most things we should follow the middle way. We should be balanced — the golden mean.

“But Maimonides says there’s one thing in particular that you’re not allowed to take the middle way, and that is anger. He says we shouldn’t give way to anger at all. He quotes the rabbis who say people who are easily angered — ba’alei ka’as — their life is not a life. They say one who is angry is as if he/she had worshipped idols. Moses got angry with the Israelites for one moment, and because of that lost his chance to enter the Promised Land. So anger management is in Judaism a sacred task.

“How do you do it? I love the story of one of the Lubavitcher rebbes, of whom it was said that whenever he felt himself getting angry, he’d take from his shelves all the books of Jewish law, open them up, and discover whether it was permitted to be angry under circumstances like this. And by the time he’d read all those books, how could he be angry any more?”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a prolific author, philosopher and the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi. (www.chiefrabbi.org)

Temper & Restraint

 “Anger isn’t always a bad emotion. There are times when we make peace with situations that are unacceptable. We become numb, we despair. Anger is the soul’s way of waking us out of our sleepwalking. Outrage has been at the core of every struggle for freedom.

“But a hot temper can poison our relationships. Which one of us hasn’t said or done something we wish we could take back? Sometimes we feel helpless in the face of our own overwhelming emotions. But the truth is, we all have so much more control than we believe we have. That’s why the rabbis teach us: ‘Who is mighty? One who conquers his or her impulses.’ (Avot 4:1) Our power of restraint is mightier than our power to destroy.

“Take time today, during this month of Elul, to rethink your way of reacting to situations. Know you can step back, breath, regroup, change.”

Rabbi Naomi Levy is a bestselling author and the founder and leader of Nashuva, the Jewish spiritual outreach movement. Her newest book, “Hope Will Find You: My Search for the Wisdom” (www.nashuva.com), will be available in September.

Last Update:

08/20/2010 - 09:25

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