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Restraining Anger

by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski

Since the days of Cain and Abel, there has been hatred and strife. The first homicide was the result of Cain's rage at being slighted. World history is replete with wars and violence. However, the extent to which anger has soared [today] and the degree to which we are exposed to it has never before occurred.

Hardly a week goes by in which there is not a [news] report of an incident of explosive anger. A disgruntled worker kills people at his former place of employment. A youngster shoots teachers and fellow students. Acts of terrorism are a daily phenomenon. Furthermore, these are delivered in the utmost explicitness via the graphic media. Awareness of these behaviors can arouse and intensify the inborn trait of anger...

The Torah forbids taking any kind of revenge, active or passive. It is forbidden to retaliate even verbally. If someone who has offended you asks for a favor, it is not permissible to say, "All right, I will do it for you even though you don't deserve it." Rather, you must do the favor and remain silent (Leviticus 19:18, Rashi).

A person may say, "I can restrain myself from taking revenge, and I can even restrain myself from telling someone he does not deserve it. But how do you expect me to not feel resentment? My feelings are not under my voluntary control."

If it would not be possible to overcome resentments, the Torah would not ask it of us. The Torah does not demand of us to do the impossible.

Inasmuch as any expression of a grudge is forbidden, there is simply no purpose in holding onto it. The only one who is harmed by a grudge is the one who holds it, not the one against whom it is held. Carrying a grudge may result in a variety of serious psychosomatic conditions, such as migraine headaches, high blood pressure and digestive disorders. It is certainly most foolish, as King Solomon said, to do harm to yourself because of another person's behavior.

An excellent story that demonstrates Solomon's designation of one who harbors resentments as a fool is that of Graf Valentin Pototcki, the Righteous Convert of Vilna.

Graf Pototcki was the son of a high nobleman, and his conversion to Judaism was a threat to the Church, which condemned him to death if he did not recant. Pototcki fled and lived incognito in a small village, where he spent his time studying Torah. The villagers knew his secret but, of course, would not expose him.

There was a young boy in the village who often harassed him, and Pototcki pleaded with him to desist. The boy told his father that Pototcki had shouted at him and, to retaliate, the father revealed Pototcki's whereabouts to the Church. Pototcki was taken into custody and was told that if he did not retract his conversion, he would be burned at the stake.

Pototcki refused to deny his faith and the cruel execution was carried out, with Pototcki's reciting the Shema with his last breath.

The executioner, seeing that Pototcki was unperturbed by his imminent death, said, "You are no doubt thinking that when you get up to heaven you will bring down the wrath of God on us."

"Not at all," Pototcki said. "When I was a child, I had little clay soldiers with which I played. One young boy was jealous of me and broke my soldiers. I cried to my father and asked him to punish the boy. When my father ignored me, I thought, 'Wait until I grow up and become the local feudal lord. I will then punish this boy.'

"When I grew up and did have the power to punish him, I was mature enough to realize how foolish it was to make an issue of something as insignificant as a few little clay soldiers, and I did nothing to punish the man who had broken them when he was a child.

"When I get to heaven and realize how insignificant is this puny little body that you are about to destroy, do you think I will make an issue of it?"

That was true wisdom. If we had the wisdom to think how insignificant the incident that angered us really was, we would not retain the resentment.

There are many anecdotes of how our Torah personalities overcame their feelings of resentment. One of them demonstrates not only their divesting themselves of resentment, but also the incomparable level of honesty they possessed.

A man came to Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian asking his forgiveness for having offended him. "I don't recall you ever having offended me. How can I forgive something of which I am not aware?"

After some urging, the man told Rabbi Lopian just how he had offended him. Rabbi Lopian said, "It is easy for me to say that I forgive you, but I am afraid that this would just be lip service, and that in my heart I might still bear a grudge. My statement, 'I forgive you' would be less than truthful.

"Please come back in two weeks," Rabbi Lopian said. "In the interval, I will study the mussar (ethical) writings on how to overcome resentments, so that my forgiving will be wholehearted."

Two weeks later the man returned. Rabbi Lopian embraced him. "I forgive you with all my heart," he said, "and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to improve this important character trait."

...The great merit of forgiving is also demonstrated by an incident related by Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz. "During the Six Day War, we were assembled in a shelter, and we could hear the shells exploding around us. People were saying Tehillim (Psalms) fervently.

"Then I heard an exclamation from a woman whose husband had abused her, and who had abandoned her for ten years, with no support for the children... The woman said, 'Master of the universe! I forgive my husband for all the pain and agony he has caused me. Just as I have forgiven him, I plead with You to forgive the sins of all who are gathered here.'"

Rabbi Shmulevitz said, "That our lives were spared was in the merit of this woman, who overcame the resentments she harbored against her husband who had so grieved her."

Excerpted with permission from
Confronting Your Challenges in the 21st Century
Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY



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