You are likely angry with someone right now. How long have you been harboring that anger? Anger often persists long after the offense that caused the discord.
Even more damage is caused when we fail to acknowledge, examine, express and resolve our displeasure. Both Torah scholars and medical professionals offer some insights into releasing the toxicity of anger.
Anger can be a positive force if expressed in the context of trying to affect positive change. When used appropriately we can express anger in a way that calls attention to a problem and points to a solution. Unaddressed, anger becomes more harmful because containment of strong emotions festers and can lead to untimely expressions of ire or even rage.
In Parshat Vayechi, at the end of the book of Genesis, on his deathbed Jacob calls his sons to task for their past offenses. Many of these events occurred decades earlier: Reuven slept with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. Shimon and Levi massacred the men of Shechem. Nine brothers conspired to sell Joseph into slavery. They are an undignified lot.
At the end of his life Jacob gives expression to this pent-up anger. Often Jacob’s end of life soliloquy is described as blessing his sons. In fact, Jacob is admonishing his sons. At a time when one might expect reconciliation, the acrimony within Jacob is given full expression. I wonder about the efficacy of the late-in-life rebuke, given the decades since the offenses and the fact that his sons are now mature men. Yet, in this instance, these rebukes serve as admonitions. They portend the tainted legacies these sons will leave but offer a tinge of hope that succeeding generations will learn lessons of civility and responsibility.
For Jacob and for us, the healthier alternative is a calm yet pointed expression of disappointment almost immediately following the offending conduct. Along with expressions of concern should be a discussion of how to repair relationships, restore trust, and build confidence.
There is a concept in transpersonal psychology called “compassionate wrath.” Compassionate wrath guides the transformation of anger into creative energy. Compassionate wrath is exhibited by leaders like Emma Gonzales survivor of the massacre at her Parkland Florida High School who helped organize the #saveourlives movement to end gun violence. With timely self awareness and focus, we can turn anger into a useful tool for change.
Unlike Jacob, we shouldn’t wait too long to address what angers us. Furthermore, we should seek to release our anger constructively and with compassion.
Both individually and as a nation, we must strive to engage each other on the issues that challenge us, before we erupt in ill timed and unhealthy anger. Both our individual health and perhaps the future of our nation are dependent upon prompt engagement on the conflicts that trouble us most.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame