“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman
What will become of this week? More violence? More bigotry? More anger? I expect that an endless supply of anger triggers will be reverberating over the airwaves, social media and into our email inboxes all week long. Are you ready for it? How do you expect to react to it? And this week, anger will also be in our everyday lives, as it was last week, the week before last and throughout much of our time on earth – anger was and will be forever present, just waiting for the next trigger to unleash undesirable actions.
I have not attended synagogue much lately, but I chose to go last Saturday morning. Funny how I seem to enjoy going much more when I choose to go instead of when I feel the obligation to go – but that is another story. Our synagogue has an assistant rabbi; a common practise for synagogues of a certain membership dimension, and this past Sabbath service (unbeknownst to me at the time) was to be his last one before most deservingly heading off to lead a congregation of his own in the United States. This young, articulate, passionate, brilliant and soulful communicator left this congregant immensely joyful and uplifted by my choice.
Too often, we hear of negative influences of religion upon the flock. Terms like, blind-faith, non-relevance, archaic or incitement are just a few of the less than stellar descriptions commonly attached to really any of the monotheistic religions. The weekly sermon, whether on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, is the clergy’s opportunity to influence the congregants, with an unimpeded, unidirectional lecture of laws, guidance and observances. Rabbi Eli (not his real name) spoke of the famous incident involving Moses, where out of anger he struck the rock to draw out water. As his punishment, God did not allow Moses to enter the promised land of Israel and instead would live out his remaining days only able to view the land from on top of Mount Nebo. But from this story, Rabbi Eli connected the biblical interpretation to everyday life like I have never heard before and his was anything but unidirectional.
Anger. It was the theme of anger that Rabbi Eli spoke of. And – normal is how he described the emotion of anger. Not a guilt-ridden emotion. Anger is an almost instinctual reaction to a trigger we have encountered. But while the feeling of anger is understandable, he said, acting out our anger is not. That is when he drew me in and I believe the rest of us present in the sanctuary as well. As I wrote last time, we cannot deny what someone feels since that is what he or she is feeling. There is no biblical punishment to simply feel anger. Reacting to anger however is a choice. As a radio personality said recently, “acting out anger never ends well.” Many of us need help in preventing our anger from manifesting itself in tangible or explicit actions. Acknowledging that is step one. For some, that is enough to be able to catch oneself and not allow the anger to present. If self-control is not enough just yet, then please reach out to the multitude of available resources for assistance. Anger has ended relationships of all sorts, careers, one’s self-esteem and sometimes lives.
Sadly, we will be tested more this week. I hope that we can recognize the anger we hold inside ourselves, and heed that warning or trigger that Moses himself was not able to contain. He paid a high price for his unforgiving action. Can we then learn to delay our anger?
I wish that there were more rabbis, priests, imams, ministers, pastors, preachers, vicars or reverends like Rabbi Eli. Even in giving a sermon, Rabbi Eli I know received much of what he gave. In that sense his sermons were not unidirectional. That and more he will take with him to his next assignment and his new congregants have much to gain and to learn from this beautiful religious teacher.