Angry Birds, Jewish Wisdom

January 22, 2013 2:00 am 0 comments

A complete set of the Babylonian Talmud. Photo: Reuvenk.

I had a teacher many years who was very effective at his job. He communicated his ideas well and had a pleasant affect. One day he got angry with us, very angry. The anger did not exactly match the “crime.” What the crime was, I can’t remember now. But I will not forget the moment. We students saw a side to him we had not seen before. He lost his temper. His face reddened, and he raised his voice. Then he was screaming. It was shocking and uncomfortable.

The next day when class began, he cited a passage from Maimonides that justifies a controlled act of anger as a way of instilling fear in one’s household as a character-building device. I don’t know about the rest of the students, but I wasn’t buying it. I was hoping for an apology, not a defense.

On the daily Talmud page for Jan. 17, I came across the reference that Maimonides used in making his case for anger. “One who rips his garments in his anger, or who scatters his money in his anger, or who breaks his objects in his anger, is like an idol worshipper… that is the expression of the evil inclination. Today it tells him to do this, and tomorrow it tells him to do that.” Anger provokes destruction; it can be a random or impulsive force that takes over our hearts and minds.

From this statement, the Talmud goes on to discuss “controlled anger” for educational purposes. It gives examples of various sages and the way they leveraged anger to achieve certain educational goals related to their families or as leaders in a community. Two examples involve smashing objects. No doubt, the sound and shattering resembles the explosive nature of anger itself. Perhaps with the breakage, there is some sense of peace or relief. I have seen anger released by people, and the intense energy it consumes. After its expression, the anger often dissipates like a valve letting off steam. Exhaustion often sets in, and the anger is spent.

As I was reviewing the Talmud’s words, I had a singular thought. Maybe this worked for certain sages who were holy people, steeped in scholarship and driven by selflessness, but I would not advise it as an educational technique for the rest of us. It is way too risky. When I think of my teacher long ago using this excuse, I was not impressed. We were not three-year old children who touched a stove or ran out into the street. The anger just made him look bad and lodged negative associations with his teaching, even though he gave us so much.

Instead, I think of Psalms 37, a psalm of great depth about the inner life. The subject of the psalm feels surrounded by injustice and pain. He sees wicked people prosper and is overcome by anger. The author advises this person not to be consumed by anger (one of the Hebrew words for anger is rooted in the verb “to eat”—it eats us alive) and instead take the long view. Goodness endures. Injustice will be overturned. Wisdom will prevail. Patience.

Fury, the psalm tells us, can only do harm. It means that external problems have come inside of us, occupying space in our minds rent-free. At that point, anger will not accomplish anything but change us. “Give up anger,” the psalmist recommends and spend all that passion on positive thinking. Control the anger, or the anger will control you.

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.