As a liberal rabbi, I am so sick of being ridiculed and insulted by people on the religious right. I get so full of anger that I see red, and all I want to do is fight back. And then I remember traditional Jewish wisdom on giving in to anger.
Here’s Rabbi Jonathan Sacks summarizing several classical rabbinic sources on the dangers of letting anger be one’s master:
“The life of those who can’t control their anger is not a life,” [the sages] said (Pesahim 113b). Resh Lakish said, “When a person becomes angry, if he is a sage his wisdom departs from him; if he is a prophet his prophecy departs from him” (Pesahim 66b). Maimonides said that when someone becomes angry it is as if he has become an idolater (Hilkhot Deot 2: 3). (For the entire piece, visit here.)
The general understanding of these texts, as I’ve been taught them, is not that we should try to suppress or banish the experience of feeling anger; rather, that we should beware of letting it be our guide. We will rarely make good decisions while in an angry frame of mind.
The way in which I most struggle with anger is when I feel like I am being bullied or people I care about are. I feel that a lot, as do many people, in the Trump era. I feel it a lot in the way that right wing media personalities deride, mock, delegitimize, and speak with disgust about political and religious progressives.
I also have a strong knee-jerk to hearing people just flat out lie, which the right wing media and politicians have been doing with impunity now for decades. And I have a strong reaction to witnessing people repeat lies, which is basically the right wing (and part of the far left) on Facebook all the time.
What I don’t know how to do well is handle my anger in those situations. I feel the desire to fight the feelings of helplessness, which feel like they are crushing me. Since I like to write, often my instinct is to write something rebutting the thing that’s gotten my goat. Sometimes I do, and feel good about it later. Sometimes I regret the trouble and energy I end up needing to deal with the aftermath of doing so.