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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →