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Count the Omer. 49 transformative steps.

Counting the Omer with Lisa Bertaccini

Day 21 — Slow to Anger

Erech Apaim  •   ארך אפים

By Rabbi Judith Edelstein, New York, NY

Lisa Bertaccini's 1st and 2nd sons Sacramento, CA
Lisa Bertaccini's 2nd and 1st sons, Sacramento, CA

In Mesilat Yesharim/Path of the Just, we read about four human responses to anger ranging from uncontrollable rage when slightly provoked to responding in a kindly manner, as our Sage Hillel did, despite intense provocation.  The majority of the average person’s reactions fall in-between these poles, with occasional forays into one extreme and the other. 

Today, we are witnessing a resurgence of the first type of behavior, cited above, where hostility is expressed with intensity and disseminated like wildfire.  Public expressions of outrage have become commonplace. This can catapult even the most sanguine into indignation. How quickly we forget the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 7:9, “Anger lives in the breast of fools.”

In fact, I had always thought of myself as a person who experienced anger rarely until I recently studied this middah for the sixth or seventh time.  With the help of my chevruta, I recognized how I have always masked my anger, naming it “hurt” instead (feelings of vulnerability and victimization).  I realized how “hurt” arose largely when I did not get my way and when I believed I was being treated unjustly.  My reaction is a common one for women around the world.  Most of us are taught to repress our anger; it is not ladylike to boil over.  But finally, after millennia of “Bite your tongue,” we are speaking out.

Just as destructive as it is for an individual to lose herself in fury and for those around her to be the recipients of that infernal blast, so, too, it is severely damaging to the one who abnegates herself, as well as to the rest of society, to permit herself to be the object of and/or to witness harmful and unjust actions. 

While “Silence to anger is like water to fire” (Pele Yoetz , Rabbi Eliezer Papo), it is incumbent upon us to stand up intentionally and calmly to counter injustice, whether on a personal, on a communal level or both.  “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.” Justice, justice you must pursue” (Deut. 16:20).

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