Anger Management and Forgiveness

I’ve received a few comments and emails from several people in the last few days since I published my last post, Get Rid of Your Anger. I’ll try to compile and summarize some of these in a later post.

For now, I wanted to present two Jewish pieces that relate to both ideas – anger and forgiveness. While they are not the same, they are definitely related, because forgiveness frequently eliminates the anger.

The first excerpt comes from Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (אבות דרבי נתן‎), one of the “small” Talmudic tractates usually printed near the end of the order of Nezikin. (See this Wikipedia article for a description.) Chapter 15 expands on an ethic said by Rabbi Eliezer who said that one should not be quick to become angry. This link is in Hebrew, for those that can understand it. If you wish the details in English, post a comment or email me.

Hillel was renowned for his endless patience and, more so, his inability to become angry. The middle of the chapter relates a story about two people who made a wager that one would pay the other 400 zuz if the other were able to anger Hillel.

One of them decides to take the challenge. He appears in front of Hillel’s home while Hillel is bathing and yells, “Where is Hillel?” Hillel wraps himself up and opens the door. The man tells Hillel he has an important question to ask. Hillel, patiently, invites him to ask, and the man asks a silly question. Hillel answers the question, and returns to his bathing.

The man persists and bothers Hillel twice more. Each time Hillel allows the man to ask his silly question, and Hillel patiently answers each one. After the third question, the man confesses that he lost 400 zuz because he wagered that he would be able to anger Hillel. Hillel responds, “You should lose twice as much so that you wouldn’t be able to anger Hillel.”

* * *

Someone asked this question, today, on another forum that I join:

If someone apologizes to you for wronging you, but you either suspect or believe that their apology is insincere, what should/must/may you do in response?

I recalled that there is a Jewish prayer that many prayer books include before reciting the bed-time Shema:

Ribono Shel Olam,
I hereby forgive
whoever has hurt me,
And whoever has done me
any wrong;
Whether it was
Deliberately or by accident,
Whether it was
Done by word or by deed,
In this incarnation
Or in previous ones.
May no one,
Be punished on my account.

So, essentially, this prayer supports my thinking in my previous blog. You don’t need to expect an apology from the person who harmed you. By saying this prayer with honesty and full intent, you free your heart from pain and anger. I occasionally say this prayer before sleeping. However, even if I don’t, I don’t think that there’s anything that occurs during a typical day that angers me to begin with. Either I’m lucky, or I’ve developed a nonchalant attitude.

In closing, I must mention that forgiveness and forgetting are totally unrelated. I frequently hear the expression “forgive and forget.” Some situations may warrant that. But I’ve heard this said to Holocaust survivors, and I am really disturbed that a non-survivor would suggest this to them. Forgetting the harm someone has caused is a personal decision that no one can dictate or should suggest to anyone, especially someone who has not experienced the exact or similar situation. Besides, remembering what the person has done can serve as an important defense against being harmed by that person again! So, be careful about relating these two ideas!

I hope that these two examples help you improve your behavior and attitude. You’ll probably see more on this topic in future posts.

About the Author
Daniel Feldman has been a native New Yorker his entire life. He is a computer analyst, technical writer and trainer. He enjoys the unusual - whether it's travelling to unusual places, inventing unusual recipes or interviewing unusual people, he will probably write or speak about it. In this blog, Daniel presents stories from his unusual as a "Middle Ear". His parents were deaf and his oldest son is also deaf. You will find a collection of some of the poignant, humorous and amazing stories about he as well as other deaf people have dealt with the challenges of deafness in a changing hearing technologically advancing world.