Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    JNS.org – Nine months ago, Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, were schmoozing about the “vibrancy of Tel Aviv and soul of Jerusalem,” as Lane put it. They dreamed about how they could bring young and innovative millennials to the so-called “start-up nation.” From April 3-7, Forbes turned that dream into a reality. Israel played host to the first-ever Forbes Under 30 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) […]

    Read more →