Responding to Our Own Anger

July 7, 2023 / 18 Tammuz 5783

Is it OK to be angry? I am not asking about the behaviors and actions that are often exhibited post-anger. Unfortunately, many of these reactions can be incredibly volatile, out of touch, disproportionate, and totally irrational to the situation. This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, makes me ponder whether being angry can be condensed solely to the emotion, and if so, can we learn to be angry without the reactionary side effects?

Whenever I think about anger, that moment when someone becomes visibly upset, enraged, and frustrated, I am drawn to the famous scene from the 90’s movie Pretty Woman, when Richard Gere’s character tells Julia Robert’s character that he was angry with his father. “I was very angry with him. It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: I was very angry with him.  I do it very well, don’t I? I’ll say it again: I was very angry with him. Hello, my name is Mr. Lewis, I am very angry with my father.”

The oddity of this scene is that this now adult Gere, with a smile on his face, is openly and even jovially discussing his still-remaining anger toward his father. Anger with a smile is a very strange disconnect. Yet, it is this anger with a smile that, upon reflection, has the greatest potential to be the most powerful adversary to the more common anger with retaliation.

This week we saw scenes unfold in Israel and the West Bank that made many uncomfortable. The very fact that Israel had to go into Jenin to destroy terror cells, tunnels, and armories, specifically constructed in areas that would cause local Palestinians hardship, pain, and suffering, is exactly the anger that will never solve a generational dispute like this. It is not about whether the behaviors are justified or not, tell that to the family of the fallen Israeli soldier or Palestinian civilians unwillingly drawn into the dispute; or to the innocent Israelis plowed down by a terrorist’s vehicle in reaction to the action.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read that Gd responds to Pinchas’s zealotry by reversing Gd’s anger and wrath against the Israelites (Numbers 25:11). This one snapshot in the midst of war, plagues, and crimes of passion, Gd teaches us a critical life lesson, that when we are most angry and unforgiving, we must step back and pause before taking action.

Peace was not achieved in South Africa until Nelson Mandela preached peace over hatred. Independence was not achieved for India until Mahatma Gandhi displayed nonviolent resistance over violence, which is how Martin Luther King Jr. developed a similar approach in the United States to advance the civil rights movement. Egypt and Israel did not sign a peace accord until Anwar Sadat, who was President of Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, became Prime Minister and realized that more could be achieved through peace than military action.

Being angry is not the challenge. Being angry is how we display our dislike for a given situation. How we respond to anger is what raises us above our animal instinct. It cost Richard Gere’s character ten thousand dollars to learn that being angry is OK, but what you do with the anger is what will make the difference towards pursuing a life of “happily ever after.”

Over the last few years, we have seen neighbors fight with neighbors, friendships dissolve over politics, and families get torn apart because they are angry with another’s point of view. Let us follow Gd’s lead in this week’s Torah portion and grant each other a brit shalom (“pact of friendship and peace”). Because we are…



Shabbat Shalom,