Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayakhel-Pekudei March 8, 2013

This week, we read two portions on Shabbat, Vayakhel and Pekudei, which will bring us to the end of the book of Shemot/Exodus.

Early in our reading we come across this verse:  “Do not light a fire in your dwellings on Shabbat.”  While observant Jews apply this commandment literally and do not cook or light fires on the Sabbath in their homes, the Sages teach us that in addition to the obvious meaning, there is also a deeper meaning in keeping with the essence of Shabbat.

The tongue is at times compared to a ‘fire’ as people can be more permanently injured with words than with stones.  The ‘fire’ of anger can burst forth in a torrent of mean, nasty, sarcastic and/or deliberately devastating utterances that can crush, devastate and debilitate another human being for years, if not for the rest of their lives.  THIS fire must NEVER be allowed to erupt in a home on Shabbat.

In truth, this ‘fire’ should never erupt within a family, but even more so on Shabbat which is the day Hashem has given us for rest, for peace, for tranquility, for family closeness, as well as closeness with Him in a measure that sometimes the pressures of our daily work do not allow.

To violate Shabbat with angry words and gestures towards those we love is a serious offense that we all do well to make every effort to avoid.

A child may learn to suppress anger because expressing it brings punishment.  While it is true that parents can never fulfill all of a child’s desires and at times, must say ‘no’ to a request, nevertheless, if they dismiss the child’s desires with a cold and indifferent attitude, the child grows up with a sense of powerlessness which births a pattern of anger in later life.  As parents – and grandparents – we need to listen and give value to the feelings and thoughts of children, while at the same time guiding them to learning how to make wise decisions. 

Acknowledging feelings of anger is quite different from indulging them and letting loose a barrage of hostile words with no thought of control.  The Proverbs say that he who controls his anger is greater than he who conquers a city.

Anger management courses have become popular in recent years, with good reason.  Road rage and other such manifestations have been a blot on our society.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, I share the following strategy that was recently given in a Torah class on anger here in Israel.  How do we get free of uncontrolled anger?

1) Give anger a voice.  Talk with a trusted friend or confidante or write in a private journal til there’s nothing else to say.  Use phrases like “This reminds me of…” or “this is just like…” to identify the trigger from your past that causes your anger to erupt.

2) Learn all you can about your anger, which is usually a response to a perceived injustice. Note the word ‘perceived’ which means the anger many not always be justified but in the perception of the one becoming angry, it is.  What does this say to us?  We need to learn how to ask ourselves, “why am I getting angry? What really happened here?”  Define exactly what is bothering you and be willing to help solve the problem

3) if the relationship or situation is toxic, exit it!  This does not mean that you can irresponsibly quit your job or abruptly dismiss a friend.  Sometimes you DO need to take radical steps like that, but many times it means you need to make a ‘mental, emotional’ exit. You may need to detach yourself on an emotional level; i.e., recognize that the two of you are on different wave-lengths and may never think alike.  Therefore, you need to find a way to come to terms with that reality and cope positively and successfully with it (if an actual exit is not possible) and learn how to be peaceful and happy despite the situation.  While this may seem difficult, it most certainly IS possible for it is extremely important to understand this principle: WHEN WE ARE UNABLE TO FIND TRANQUILITY WITHIN OURSELVES, IT IS USELESS TO SEEK IT ELSEWHERE!

In Tune with Torah this week= the greatest faculty we have as human beings is the ability to choose.  Anger is a choice; whatever area of our lives is subject to angry outbursts is the very area that on this Shabbat we need to make a new choice – to meditate on the issue and choose one of the strategies above – or another one you may come up with – to free ourselves from the tyranny of anger.

Shabbat Shalom

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