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Monday, 19 May 2014

Get rid of simmering anger before it boils over!

Rosh Hashanah 12

When I offer premarital counseling to young couples, one of the commitments I ask them to make to one another is that should the relationship ever go awry, they will seek counseling.  Sadly, too many marriages break up with one of them deciding that they’ve had enough and then simply walking out. 

Meanwhile, the other one is sitting there in shock, having never realized that their spouse was so unhappy.    Had they sought help, the marriage very often could have been saved.  But by the time it’s over, it’s often way too late for that.

How does this tragic state of affairs happen?

The Torah states: “In the six hundredth year of the life of Noah in the second month . . . all the springs of the great deep burst and the windows of heaven opened.”
The Beraisa teaches: “Since the generation of the Great Flood corrupted their ways, the Almighty corrupted the natural order over them.”

We’ve previously discussed the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua concerning when the world was created.  According to Rabbi Eliezer, the world was created in the month of Tishrei, and according to Rabbi Joshua it was in the month of Nisan. 

For Rabbi Joshua, the Beraisa’s statement that G-d corrupted nature makes sense.   The second month following Nisan is the dry season and so if it rained, G-d had to change the natural order.  But according to Rabbi Eliezer, the second month following Tishrei is anyway the rainy season.  So what does the Beraisa mean when it says that G-d corrupted nature?

Rabbi Chisda answers that the water that descended was not ordinary rainwater.  It was boiling hot water that immediately scalded the inhabitants of the earth.   How does he know this?

When the Flood concludes, the Torah states “And the waters subsided.”  The same word is used to describe Ahasuerus’s anger when Haman is hanged, “And the king’s anger subsided.”  Rabbi Chisda explains that the Hebrew word for subsided suggests ‘cooling down.’   Therefore if the Torah employs that word, the waters must have been hot. 

Rashi clarifies Rabbi Chisda’s reference to the verse in the Book of Esther: Ordinary anger ‘boils’ as another verse in the scroll makes clear “And his anger was burning within him.”   And so to subside from anger normally evokes an image of cooling down.

Rashi’s description of ‘ordinary anger’ that boils implies that there is also a kind of anger that doesn’t boil, it just simmers.

Many people are good at concealing this sort of anger.   Unfortunately, however, doing so is really not helpful.  If you’re angry with your spouse, for example, and you just keep it bottled up, eventually you’re going to explode.  And sometimes your spouse has no idea how angry you are until that point of explosion, by which time it’s too late.

Maintaining your anger at a simmering point is dangerous.   You need to let go of it before it blows.   That means asserting yourself and discussing your problems with your spouse.    Yes, you might raise your voice and present yourself inappropriately.  But it’s much better that you get it out of your system now, rather than explode later in such a way that’s irreparable.

Of course, ideally, you should strive to avoid ever becoming angry.  The way to achieve that is to discuss matters of concern with your spouse as soon as they occur, so that they don’t become bottled up inside you. 

But if you do have simmering anger issues, you have to let go of them as soon as you can.  Holding them in will only make matters worse in the long run.  Talk to your spouse.  If you need to, seek outside assistance.  Sometimes it helps just to have a third party at the table.  And sometimes, the trained counselor can be particularly helpful – it’s probably not the first time s/he’s encountered whatever issues you have.

You don’t need to be angry!  You’re only making yourself miserable.  In the long run, everyone will suffer.  Don’t let it simmer, take care of it today!  

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