By Eli Katz
It seems like a lot of people are working on controlling their anger. It seems that not only are most of them unsuccessful, but they end up becoming depressive from the entire experience.
The following is a true story. I kid you not. It may seem like I made this up but I didn't.
I had not seen a certain friend for many years. We shall change his name and call him Moe in order to protect the guilty.
Moe is a very bright person. He had taught in a Yeshiva in his youth but had gone through what we call "gilgulim", changes in his life. A few disappointments in life caused him to change his profession several times. Eventually he learned about counseling and he specialized in anger management.
One day we met in the local synagogue and we began to talk together. He began telling me about a situation that happened on the previous Purim. It seemed that as he was in the synagogue, a boy was sitting behind him. When the person who was reading the Megillah pronounced the name of the evil "Hamam", the boy started to shoot his cap gun next to the ear of Moe. This bothered him immensely, and so he turned around to the boy and warned him in a very strict and threatening voice that if the boy does it again, he will break the gun over his head.
The boy's father, Moe related to me, became enraged that someone would threaten his son and told Moe that if he tries to harm his son or his property, the father would break Moe's arm. Well, one word led to another and the next thing you knew there was an argument in the synagogue.
My friend turned to me and confessed, it was bad enough that he, an anger counselor, should loose his temper, but he felt bad that he committed a grave sin.
"Sin?" I replied amazed. "What sin was that?"
"Why getting angry is a sin," he replied.
"Anger is a sin?" I asked, "Where do you see that anger is a sin?"
"Everyone knows that it is a sin."
"No," I replied, "Anger is no sin. It certainly is not a very nice way to express yourself. But a sin it is not. If you get angry, it is not nice, perhaps, but it is not a sin, so don't feel guilty."
"It certainly is a sin!" he said. I could see that he held very strongly that it was indeed a sin.
"Well, in what sefer (book) is it written that it is a sin? Show me, and I will concede to you."
"It is in the Rambam," and he went to the bookshelf and took out the big book and laid it down in front of me as he began turning the pages. "Here it is," he exclaimed proudly and began reading to me. "The Rambam writes (da'at 2:3) 'Anger is a bad character trait and must be avoided. A person should teach himself to avoid anger even in a situation that calls for it.' There," he responded with pride, "it is written clearly!"
"Not so quick," I said, "the Rambam says that anger should be avoided and that it is a bad character trait. I agree, but he does not put it into the category of a sin. You do not have to feel guilty about sinning if you get angry."
I began to see the rage building up in him. His face quivered and became tight as he tried to suppress his feelings. Then it came out, "LOOK, DON'T TELL ME ABOUT ANGER. I AM AN EXPERT IN ANGER! I TEACH SEMINARS TO MANY PEOPLE."
I saw that instead of alleviating his worries of sinning, I had caused him to become angry with me. I tried to placate him. "I'm sorry, I only meant to take away your guilt."
"LISTEN," he said as he trembled, trying with all of his might to control himself that he should not make a scene in the synagogue. "I DON'T LIKE YOUR CONDESCENDING ATTITUDE. DON'T TELL ME ABOUT ANGER, I AM AN EXPERT." I saw that I had put my foot in it, so I backed down from a sticky situation.
Now you may think that I made up this story; I did not. It is as real as it is ludicrous. I could not believe my eyes that this "expert" in anger was blowing up at me because I had pointed out an error in his judgment.
But let me ask you this question: If the experts are unable to manage their anger, what about us simple folk? Or perhaps the question is even deeper: "Why was it that an expert in anger management, a fellow who was intellectually qualified, who knows more than most about anger, could not take his professed knowledge and make it work?
The answer is simple, but difficult. There is a wide difference between being an expert in human skills and being skilled. There is an intellectualization that remains in the mind but never seems to descend and control the emotive reactions. Moe mastered the knowledge of anger but failed to master anger because he was unable to make that knowledge part of him.
We must not make that mistake.
First we must realize that all situations, unpleasant as they may be, really come from G-d. It is He who has caused us to fall into difficult circumstances. The person who is causing us the discomfort is really an agent of G-d, as distasteful as this person may be. If we could see this with our eyes we would never get angry. As long as we believe that it was this person who acted unjustly towards us, then we will have anger towards him. But if I sincerely believe that all difficult situations are from G-d and in His great wisdom has sent me this situation to deal with as best as I may for whatever purpose that He sees fit, then I will not be angry. How can I be angry at G-d's ways? The person who is disturbing me, I must realize is just G-d's agent, he is not the real cause, G-d is the real cause. I have to deal with it and my real address for complaints is G-d.
Once we internalize this, anger will cease to be a problem. It is not merely an intellectual understanding of this process, but rather internalized into our way of life.
from the September, 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine