Really sick of being insulted

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.)

Sacks-Rabbi-Jonathan-NEW
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 – 2013.

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.

Continue reading “Really sick of being insulted”

D’var Torah – Ki Tissa 5769 (2009) – Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

This was a talk I gave at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon in 2009.

In this week’s parashah we find high drama as Moses comes down from his 40 day stay atop Mount Sinai carrying shnai loochot ha-aydoot – two tablets of the covenant – loochot even – tablets of stone – k’tooveem b’etzba eloheem – inscribed with writing from the finger of Almighty.  You know what happens next.  As it says in the text, “The ETERNAL spoke to Moses: ‘Hurry down, for your people — note that now it’s your people, not my people — whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely.  They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them. They have made themselves an egel masecha — a molten calf, and they have bowed low to it and sacrificed to it, saying ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'” 

And then comes one of my favorite phrases of divine exasperation. God tells Moses, “Am k’shay oref hu. I see that this is a stiff-necked people.” God tells Moses that God is considering destroying the Israelites, and Moses quickly pleads on their behalf, ultimately succeeding in persuading God to give them another chance. And then Moses turned and journeyed down that mountain, carrying the shnai loochot, the two stone tablets which were, according to the text, inscribed on both sides with the direct writing of God. 

When Moses finally arrived near the camp and saw the people reveling in idol worship and other lewd behaviors, he hurled the stone tablets from his hands and shattered them – v’yeeshbor otam – at the foot of the mountain. Then he took the golden calf made out of their jewelry and coins and burned it. Then he had it ground into powder, mixed into water, and he made the Israelites drink it. 

By the time we get towards the end of this week’s Torah portion, we are reading about Moses and the Jewish people’s second chance at the encounter with God at Mount Sinai. Chapter 34 of Exodus begins with the words p’sal lecha shnai loochot avanim ka-reeshonim — God says to Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones.”  P’sal the verb that means “carve” and “lecha” means for yourself. This is the beginning of Moses’ second journey up the mountain. This time he will bring stone tablets that he has carved himself (God had created the first set), and he will return with the text of the commandments and the covenant, bringing these sacred words to a more sobered people.

Rabbis over the centuries have taken a close look at this second set of tablets – the tablets we actually received, and through midrashic lenses they found many possible deeper lessons in the Torah’s account of this cosmic do-over. Some of the sages looked at this phrase, “p’sal lecha,” and considered how the Hebrew verb p’sal — to carve — could be read in different ways and offer up different meanings. One tradition states that the phrase, “p’sal lecha,” “carve for yourself,” actually hints at a different meaning. Instead of God saying to Moses, “carve for yourself” these two new stone tablets, if you read instead of the Hebrew word p’sal the related word pesolet, which means “leftovers,” then what you end up with is God saying to Moses, “the leftovers are for you.” What leftovers is God talking about? This midrash teaches that God was referring to the leftover bits and pieces of the highly valuable stone material that the first set of tablets were made up of. As God carved the letters into that first holy set of tablets, little bits and pieces of the stone fell onto the ground, and, according to this midrash, God told Moses to scoop them up and keep them, and sell them. The midrash says that Moses did just that, and in fact became very wealthy in the process!  But then the sages add that Moses, being Moses, didn’t care for the wealth or need it.  Continue reading “D’var Torah – Ki Tissa 5769 (2009) – Exodus 30:11 – 34:35”

Anger is not my friend, but I am so f*&%ing angry

I’m really struggling with anger – I guess my own personal brand of anger that is actually part of a cycle of thoughts & feelings I’ve churned and repeated most of my life. My counselor of the past 12 years – who is one of the most dear friends I have – taught me long ago the bit about anger being a secondary emotion, and that before we feel anger first we feel something else, however briefly. Usually the primary emotion is fear, though it can also be sadness, disappointment, anxiety, or some cocktail of all of these.

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The “Anger Iceberg” of Power Point presentation fame.

Of course, there’s the kind of anger that flashes in life-or-death, fight-or-flight situations, which is an evolutionary advantage & survival skill, but that’s not the kind of anger I’m talking about. I’m talking about walking around, day by day, doing good work at my job, being a good parent (mostly), and spending way too much time feeling worried, afraid, and anxious about the future – and after a while, that swirl of discomfort blossoms into anger. An anger that I carry around and then do things with that probably aren’t helpful.

Fortunately, the kinds of stupid things I do with this anger aren’t the kinds of things that involve physical violence or wanton destruction. They’re more along the lines of posting FB responses in an angry tone to total strangers I disagree with on political issues. Yeah, I know – ooh, very scary.

In the Talmud, ancient rabbis compare the act of dwelling in anger as a form of idolatry. (For those who like to look stuff like this up, visit BT Shabbat 105b). Then there’s this oft-quoted passage:

Continue reading “Anger is not my friend, but I am so f*&%ing angry”