Monday, February 21, 2011

Facing Up to Anger

A week ago, I witnessed a protest in Yorba Linda, California. Church groups, Tea-partiers and the members of some Jewish congregations had been called on to protest the charity fundraising dinner of the Islamic Circle of North America at which two controversial Muslim leaders were speaking. The protesters had gathered to protest both the speakers and the aims of the organization which they see as having a “radical Islamicist agenda.” I will let the reader do their own research to judge the merits of the protest, the organization and its speakers.

The protest itself was a mob scene in which the assembled crowd armed with signs and American Flags hurled insults at the Muslim families who were rushing into the hall or rushing out. They were told to “Go home!” and called “Terrorist.” Women in hijab were special targets. All men were addressed as “Ahmed” and one piously Christian adult made it a point to yell at little children that “Mohammed was a pedophile” others in the crowd followed this with “Jesus loves you!” It was bizarre and it was a disgrace.

As the crowd was yelling, I looked around at the faces of those screaming their insults and I was reminded of a teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
He taught the following

When a person gives way to anger, it stirs up the great accuser, Esau, or Edom. The accuser in the upper world is the source of a flurry of accusers and enemies who come down and take charge of this angry man. His anger puts his wisdom to flight, and the image of G-d disappears from his face. He no longer has the face of a man. This is why he is in the power of his enemies. Because he has the appearance of a beast they are not afraid of him (Likutei Moharan 57:6).

It is true. What I saw around me were not the faces of human beings but the faces of wild animals. I no longer saw the beautiful reflection of divinity that is the essence of a human being’s soul. That soul had been so defiled by anger, so twisted by blind rage that it was gone.

Strangely seeing that brought me an unusual calm and a strength. My own anger at them retreated, and for a few moments, instead of enraged human beings, I saw cornered frightened snarling animals. Perhaps their fears are not real, but their response was. It was not a human response, certainly not a G-dly response, it was a response from their animal being.

A few days ago, I encountered this teaching of Imam Al-Ghazali in his discussion of the causes of anger and its cure. One of the cures is as follows:

Another kind of medicine based on knowledge is to think about the
ugly face of the angry man, which is just like that of the ferocious
beast. He who appeases anger looks like a sober and learned man.

Unwittingly, I had done Imam al-Ghazali's exercise and it had worked. In the face of the ferocious beast within another I found, at least for some moments, the humanity in myself. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that every experience in our lives has the potential of giving us instruction in our service of G-d. Here it seems very clear. When we are surrounded with hostility we just need to look at the faces around us. We can look into the face that is staring us down and see that inner animal, see the tangible evidence that for that moment, our “enemy” has lost the struggle within and let that experience heal us, to allow the humanity within us to be victorious.

Note on the picture:
To find out more about that picture above from Little Rock, Arkansa in 1957 check out this article. Its quite a story.¤tPage=all


  1. Wonderful post, Reb Tzvi! And I'm glad to see you back blogging -- I have missed your insightful messages.

    St. Francis of Assisi (one of my favorite non-Jewish teachers) also taught, "Make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love." This is not always so easy, and I sometimes fail at it, but I believe all true religion has the same message as the ideal to strive for. Shalom - Salaam - Peace!

  2. Good insight and very interesting teaching. The lesson of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov reminds me of this, "the strongest man is not the one who uses his strength, but the strongest is the one who controls his anger"... Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

    Both teachings very relevant with discipline, respect and the outcome of dignity...thank you

  3. I just discovered your blog and I am so happy I did. May you be blessed for the work you are doing, my brother. You give me so much hope.

    -Your sister in Islam

  4. Very interesting post . "medicine based on knowledge". Thank you.
    Shalom, Salam...