CONTENTS AT A
WHEN MARITAL DIFFERENCES
ROCK THE BOAT
TACTICS FOR DIFFUSING
AND HANDLING A FIGHT
DON'T BE STIFLED, BE
CREATIVE! USE HUMOR AND THE UNEXPECTED TO DIFFUSE A FIGHT
WE DON'T PUNISH PAIN
EVIL AND IMPRACTICAL ANGER IS
THREE DOZEN RULES FOR
ANGER-FREE EXPRESSION AND HANDLING OF YOUR FEELINGS AND ARGUMENTS [Introduction]
THREE DOZEN RULES FOR
ANGER-FREE EXPRESSION AND HANDLING OF YOUR FEELINGS AND ARGUMENTS [continuation of
THREE DOZEN RULES FOR
ANGER-FREE EXPRESSION AND HANDLING OF YOUR FEELINGS AND ARGUMENTS
[the 36 rules]
WHEN MARITAL DIFFERENCES
ROCK THE BOAT
From the Torah's story of Korach, we know
how evil and destructive fighting is. Regarding marriage, the sages say (Derech Eretz
Zuta, chapter nine), "A home with dissention is destroyed." A husband and wife
cleave together "as one flesh" (Genesis 2:25), "The happiness of a heart is
a wife" (Shabos 152a), "A woman's husband makes her happy" (Rosh HaShana
6b). A happy, attached and peaceful marriage is not only possible, it is axiomatic.
The Chofetz Chayim once hired a coach in a
rural area. The driver stopped and said, "I am going to steal some hay from this farm
for my horse to eat. Warn me if someone sees." As he was about to pick up some hay
piled near the road, the Chofetz Chayim screamed, "Er kukt (someone sees)!" The
driver ran back, cracked his whip, sped off and then asked, "I didn't see anyone. Who
saw?" The Chofetz Chayim pointed upward. The One above always sees.
Vayikra Raba (Emor) tells of two friends.
One sold a carob tree to the other. The buyer found a fortune of jewels in the trunk. Not
wanting to be a thief, he insisted that the seller take the treasure back. The seller said
that he sold the tree "as is" and taking the fortune would make him the thief!
Both insisted that the other take it, and neither would. They went to the king, who ruled
that one's son marry the other's daughter and to give the fortune to the couple. A Jewish
fight starts with feeling yourselves to be loving friends, who could not think of hurting
or shortchanging the other; and, to do so would be criminal. Each wants the other to win
and plays the lawyer for the other's side of the story, and advocate for the other's good.
When the two cannot settle the matter themselves, refer to the King - Hashem, His Torah, a
known rov who is an expert in the subject of the question.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 32b) asks how to
establish precedence when two boats, going in opposite directions, meet on a narrow river
when the water is too narrow to cross. There are two criteria given for deciding who can
force the other to back up: the one with the heavier load or the one closer to its
This is a valuable principle for resolving
impasses in human relations. If one is carrying a heavier burden or is involved in a
project which is in the process of being achieved, that person is deemed to be in greater
objective need and wins precedence. Say, a wife is emotionally drained or hurt, she has a
"heavier burden." If a husband is doing work and needs momentum or must meet a
deadline, he is "closer to a destination." When differences "rock the
boat," give priority to the resolution most consistent with: long-run peace; the
least damage, hurt or loss; and honesty.
Attribute weight to your partner's feelings
and perception. You may not grasp what the issue means to your partner, due to
subjectivity, emotions and biases. See beyond yourself - your partner does! Be soft as a
reed (Taanis 20b), bendable and adaptive. Make yourself gentle to save yourself from the
sin of anger (Taanis 4a) and never respond to insult or provocation (Shabos 88b). Erev
shabos is a tense time, extra prone to fighting (Avodas HaKodesh). Expect that there is
more to a story or in the context that you don't know. Don't jump to conclusions. Give
benefit of doubt and let the other's honor be as dear to you as your own (Pirkei Avos,
chapter one & two). Listen carefully to what your partner says. Be impacted by it and
respond substantively to it.
TACTICS FOR DIFFUSING AND
HANDLING A FIGHT
THE SINGLE BEST DEFENSE AGAINST ANGER AND
FIGHTING IS TO DEVELOP A SOLID RELATIONSHIP IN ADVANCE. If you consciously and actively
work together to do this, if there ever should be a "blow up," Heaven forbid,
THEN YOU KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT REALLY YOUR SPOUSE: you know that a pressure, pain or
external context explains the "blow up." And, you've conditioned each other to
getting along sweetly, bondedly and compatibly AS THE NORM. Your view of each other has
been developed and established as loyal, reliable, loving, devoted, reasonable,
good-natured, responsible, respectful, approachable, responsive, concerned, mature and
caring. Communicate regularly, so that you become comfortable with talking. Talking will
be "normal" so there is no obstacle when you NEED to talk directly. A crucial
and axiomatic foundation for all "resolution strategy" to be: a solid, peaceful
and bonded relationship. When something blows up, your overtures to achieve understanding
and for pursuit of resolution are perceived as credible, sincere and "in
character." In marriage, individuals don't win. Only the marriage can. You can
DISCUSS but REFUSE TO FIGHT! Don't let things go unresolved, grow tense, add up nor
Don't EVER let relatives meddle. They side
with one party, instigate, get irrational and cruel. There is no law to honor parents by
sacrificing your marriage. Keep your differences private, except for qualified counselors
and rabonim, when the problem is "over your head." If you did wrong, admit it,
do tshuva and move on with life. "The wise person can transform bad things into good
things" (Orchos Tzadikim). Never be excited or frightening (Rambam, Hilchos Ishus
15:19). Remember that your marriage, and behavior in it, will have lasting impact on your
children, for good or bad. "Who is wise? He who considers long run consequences"
If a discussion gets heated, interrupt it
long enough to simmer down. Go for a walk, tear a phone book, go eat ice cram or shovel
the snow. Explain your feelings to your spouse politely, because this shows respect for
your partner. It says that (s)he is entitled to understand why you think and feel the way
you do, and provides a basis for substantive dialogue. Always stay calm and always
remember that your discussion is with Tzelem Elokim (the image of G-d), to whom we never
have permission to cause pain or damage of any kind. Since this is the person you are
attached to, this would ultimately be hurting yourself. When you make this person happy,
you ultimately contribute to your own happiness.
As a concrete example, let's say that your
wife mistakenly, and with no malicious intent, spills milk into a pot of hot chicken soup.
Since the Torah prohibits mixtures of milk and meat, the food and the pot become unkosher.
You are tempted to blow up abusively at your wife. Unkosher anger does not fix the
unkosher food or pot. Stay calm. Call your rabbi to ask how to kosher the pot. Throw out
the soup instead of your marriage. Tell your wife that you love her and that you're really
in the mood for pizza. If your wife shows any sign of fear (of rejection, attack or
criticism), sweetly assure her that you know that she didn't "traif up" the pot
on purpose, you appreciate that she was exerting effort on your behalf and didn't mean to
aggravate you. Let her know that the pot is not important and that SHE IS, and that you
are happy with her. She probably feels terrible or frightened, especially if the marriage
is new or insecure. Make her feel good, and remember, the pizza guy has a slice with your
name on it!
DON'T BE STIFLED, BE
CREATIVE! USE HUMOR AND THE UNEXPECTED TO DIFFUSE A FIGHT
There are some cases in which an effective
approach to marital argument is: use humor! Vital, however, when using humor are:
* keen judgement,
* knowledge of your partner as a person,
* understanding the dynamics in each
individual situation. Never use humor if it will insult, provoke or aggravate your
partner. Only use a humor approach when you can be reasonably sure that it will break
tension - never add to it. The last thing you want is tactless escalation of a fight.
If your spouse says an angry word, you
might smile widely and say, "You said an 'A word' and anger's a 'no-no.'" If you
were supposed to do something by seven o'clock and it's five to seven, pull the plug (or
battery) on the wall clock and say with a smile, "It's not seven yet!" If
tension is building, smile widely and say with a laugh, "I know! Let's have a fight
about it." Drop your smile, shake your head cutely left and right and continue
gently, "No. The article says fighting ain't an option." Bring back the smile
and conclude enthusiastically, "Well, that's the end of that idea!"
Your wife wants to re-paint the house. You
are entirely against it but you don't want the almost inevitable confrontation that will
follow your angry eruption. Be humorous, not sarcastic. Remember to keep your face and
tone of voice funny so that the entire performance is uniformly cute.
"Why, I was just thinking it was time
for a change. We could personally move all the furniture away from the walls. Good
exercise, get the blood flowing nicely. Do you own a sweatshirt, dear? Empty out the
closets and put everything on the sidewalk for five days. Great exercise in bitachon
(trust in G-d)! Hire absolute strangers to come in and take over our house and pay them
thousands of dollars to do it. Good character training to let go of our sense of
ownership! Good citizenship. We'll contribute to the economy. Have the house smell. Good
exercise in separation from material pleasures. Real mess for anyone who touches the walls
till they dry. Great discipline for the kids. With so many advantages, why didn't we think
of this years ago?"
Another approach that can break tension is
to say something positive when your partner expects a criticism, insult or attack. Be
sincere. After an unkind word from your partner, you'll surprise him/her with, "I
appreciate the fact that you're trying to control your temper. I see that your response is
better than it used to be. Thank you for working on it." When a young woman (who
speaks to me about her marriage) gently used such a response, after an outburst from her
husband, he felt so guilty that he became a contrite little lamb, and they made right up.
On a subsequent occasion, she found herself repeatedly verbally attacking her husband.
When talking about this developing trend, she told me that her husband and she were
originally attracted to each other on the basis of admiring each other's talents. I
changed their orientation to midos and heart-to-heart bonding. They took this very
seriously and went to work on giving, softness, empathy, communication, self-control and
emotional supportiveness. She sincerely and diligently went to work on connecting with her
heart and working on relating to his heart. He is much less sensitive than she, and he was
moving at a much slower pace. She became critical and impatient, attacking him often. I
told her to "touch his heart with your heart rather than attacking his heart."
All the while that she was "not seeing the forest for the trees," she was
violating - not developing - a heart-to-heart relationship. This woman worked steadily and
patiently. She kept at it like a hero and turned their relationship around! Their marriage
has been peaceful, warm, gentle and more communicative ever since.
WE DON'T PUNISH PAIN
How might a "blow up" be your
spouse's call for help or for emotional support? Remember, especially at rough and
challenging times, a relationship must always be trustworthy in all aspects; thoughtful,
unvarying, unharmful and unconditional. Standards never drop. Life is essentially a
spiritual test (directed to Torah, service of G-d, inner growth and meritorious deeds
towards others). Keep perspective of true priorities, the "big picture," and
long run consequences of decisions and actions. You weren't married to hurt each other.
Make it clear that you have concern for: * your partner, as much as (if not more than) for
yourself, * his/her side of the issue, and * fair, workable and considerate resolution.
You also are seriously concerned with causing no disruption nor unhappiness through * the
issue nor * dealing with the issue.
Sometimes a thing which a person is
complaining or carrying on about is what is called, in psychology, the "presenting
problem," which is covering the real underlying issue. For example, a single claims
relating partners are nasty (presenting problem). He suffered abuse or witnessed marital
disharmony as a child and is terrified of commitment owing to emotional pain and neglect
(underlying cause). He keeps people away with unappealing behaviors or habits.
One more example. A husband is angry or
hostile to his wife (presenting problem). His boss or customer at work has been taking out
some business losses on him for several months. Today there was some major abuse at work
and the husband's patience and tolerance wore out. He doesn't come from a very
communicative family and he is somewhat insecure due to lack of nurturance as a child
(underlying cause). It is too difficult for him to risk his job by being expressive or
assertive at work. So, he takes his trouble out on his wife by being tyrannical or
intensely upset. Regarding the wife, a comparable case might be having had a rough day
with a mischievous or sick child, or she was cooking a big pot of food and the recipe got
ruined or the entire pot fell and the contents all spilled. The husband walks in to find
his wife upset. She doesn't mean him any harm. She was stressed and aggravated beyond
When the Jewish people were in the desert
for forty years, according to nature, there should have been no water to drink. In the
merit of the righteous prophetess Miriam, G-d provided a rock which followed them wherever
they went and miraculously provided water for the entire nation to drink, to fill all
their needs. When Miriam passed away, the merit by which the nation's water was supplied
disintegrated. There was no longer water for the Jewish people to drink. They came to
Moshe, angrily protesting. They were upset and complaining that there was no water. There
was an uproar that they would die in the desert. The midrash (Bamidbar Raba) points out
that on all of the other occasions on which the Jewish people complained and got upset,
there was a punishment, an epidemic in which thousands of people were killed. The midrash
points out that when you look at this particular story, the Torah tells of no plague, no
epidemic, no killing off of thousands of people. Why?
Here, the people had a genuine fear and
pain over the fact that they had no water in the middle of a hot, dry desert. If someone
would be in the middle of the desert, where there is no water, it is normal for a person
to feel very frightened with the prospect of dying of thirst in the hot and sandy desert
and pained by intense thirst. Because underlying their complaint and protest (presenting
problem) was severe pain and fright (underlying cause), the midrash points out that Hashem
understood that IT WAS THE PAIN THAT WAS COMPLAINING, NOT THE PEOPLE. Therefore, there was
no punishment. The root of the behavior was pain and we do not punish pain. So, we
separate a presenting problem from the underlying cause, and the person from the
underlying and true issue. When necessary, we must take practical steps to address the
issue (we will look at how next week) or to protect from damage. But, we never drop our
standards with the person. The Torah Jew is basically compassionate, caring and
understanding - and this must be demonstrated whenever dealing with a person who is
frightened, insecure, pressured or in pain.
EVIL AND IMPRACTICAL ANGER IS
When relationships run into problems, there
are acceptable ways to address them and there are unacceptable ways to address them. One
of the key axioms for resolving disputes and differences is: NEVER RESORT TO ANGER. The
more one is quick to anger, the more he must work to not be provoked; and to be restrained
and quiet. "G-d keeps the world in existence in the merit of the person who shuts his
mouth at the time of strife" (Chulin 89a). I often tell couples: 1. having
differences is normal so people should NEVER BE AFRAID OF HAVING DIFFERENCES, they should
be AFRAID OF IMMATURE HANDLING OF DIFFERENCES! 2. to have a rov and their policy should be
"WE DON'T HAVE FIGHTS, WE HAVE SHAALOS!" 3. Accept that real life does not
always go your way, 4. DON'T BE STIFLED BE CREATIVE! and 5. Maturely handling differences
makes people closer!
When angry, one is overwhelmed, out of
control and self-absorbed. Anger is ONLY destructive and brings to sin and misfortune
(Nedarim 22b). Anger leaves the angry person only with loss. The gemora says, "There
is nothing left for the angry person except his anger" (Kidushin 40b-41a, i.e. he
loses his relationships, health and wisdom). King Solomon tells us anger increases
imbecility, troubles and self-defeat, saying, "Don't let your spirit be quick to be
angry for anger rests in the lap of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). From this we see that
the angry person is a fool. Further, "A fool does not understand (Psalms 92:7),"
"A fool spreads out his stupidity (Proverbs 13:16)," "An angry man causes
strife and the furious man has abundant sin (Proverbs 29:22)" and "The one of
great anger carries corresponding punishment (Proverbs 19:19)."
In contrast, "The words of the wise
are heard with gentleness (Ecclesiastes 9:17)." From the verse, "Remove anger
from your heart and thereby put evil out of your flesh (Ecclesiastes 11:10)," the
Talmud teaches that it is a FULL-TIME LIFELONG OBLIGATION TO WORK ON TRAINING ONESELF TO
BE GENTLE (Taanis 4a). Proverbs teaches, "A soft reply will turn away anger
(15:1)." Rabbi Chaim MiVelozhin, in "Kesser Rosh," beautifully blends the
ethical and the practical in writing, "Harsh words are never heard." Throughout
Jewish tradition, anger is shown to be altogether destructive, sinful, reprehensible,
sacrilege, evil, futile and self-preoccupied. When angry, one's intellect, reason,
character, principle, stability and self-control all disappear. The midrash tells us
"All who are angry are as serving idolatry." The angry person is governed by
angry emotion, he is worshipping himself and not G-d! Remember that we are obligated to
always serve G-d. It is A CONTRADICTION TO BE FRUM AND TO BE ANGRY! When in a holy context
(e.g. marriage, shul, yeshiva) it is extra profanation to be angry! Always retain high
standards of spirituality; with manners, calm, self-control, consideration, midos,
patience and peace. If an angry person provokes you, should Soton have two victories!?
"A man's intellect makes him slow to anger (Proverbs 19:11)." "If you do
not get angry, you will not sin (Brachos 29b)." "The person who is rapid to
anger and slow to appeasement is evil, the person who is slow to anger and rapid to
appeasement is pious (Pirkei Avos, chap. five)." King Solomon prescribes the remedy
(Ecclesiastes 7:19), "Torah strengthens the wise more than ten rulers who control a
The gemora (Pesachim 113b) says that G-d
hates three things: anger, drunkenness and requiring that things be strictly your way. The
Maharal explains that the common element is that all three are characterized by having a
boundary that limits each within the physical world. G-d wants our lives spiritual, free
from restraint by physical factors. In fact, the gemora (Rosh Hashana 17a) says that
always NOT requiring things to be just your way and (Taanis 20b) that always NOT being
angry in your own home COULD LENGTHEN YOUR LIFE! That gemora (Taanis 20b) also says to be
soft and bendable as a reed. As a practical matter, I can tell you from my private
counseling work experience, that a couple being flexible - without grudge or resentment;
in a warm and good-natured way; with care and concern for each other; being meaningfully
and steadily kind, respectful and responsive to one another - is of utmost importance for
achieving great levels of success in their work to build a peaceful and happy marriage.
One of the most essential skills at relating is to give "human acknowledgement;"
that is; to meaningfully, substantively and authentically recognize the person you are
relating to AS THE PERSON HE OR SHE IS, WITH FEELINGS AND NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS FROM YOU
("lip service" does not count). Even when the right words are there; if you
REJECT, CANCEL, ERASE OR IGNORE THE OTHER AS A PERSON; this will contribute to alienation,
frustration or hostility. I've seen this happen countless times. A major part to having an
"anger-proof, fight-proof relationship" with anybody is to first truly achieve
"human acknowledgement" of the person you are relating to. There is little more
infuriating and painful than failure in this. Only after this has been achieved can you
proceed to use words to deal with any issue that comes up.
Never lose your temper. Never feel entitled
to have or release angry emotions. DEAL WITH THEM IN PRIVATE, NEVER AT THE EXPENSE OF
OTHERS. Go for a walk. Tear a phone book. Scream into your pillow or "at the
person" WHEN YOU ARE ALONE. Eat some ice cream. Run for hours in the forest till your
energy is gone. Write a letter that gets anger out (do not send it!). Get counseling. But
NEVER GIVE ANGER OR HARM TO ANOTHER PERSON. CONQUER ANGER, DON'T LET IT CONQUER YOU! One
must always be humble and prevent himself from having anger.
There are numerous techniques for working
on anger. For example, the midrash tells us that when his employer's wife tried to
convince him to sin, Yosef saw his father Yaakov's image in his mind and thus saved
himself from sin. Imagine your anger will seen by a "yenta" or a neighbor or a
tzadik - do you want them to see you acting crazily, or see you as a villain or jerk? If
others watched a video of you behaving angrily (e.g. bullying, throwing things or
screaming), they would see you as a lunatic and be alienated from you. Tell yourself you
will sin BUT FIRST you have to do a mitzva (doven, buy a lulav, etc.) and how can you
stain your mitzva with a sin!? I WILL sin BUT today is a special, holy day (it is Monday
or Thursday, a day of extra Heavenly mercy; it is Tuesday, the day the Torah describes as
double good; it is the holy day of Chol HaMoed, Rosh Chodesh, Shabos, Yom Tov, Chanuka).
If you tell yourself you will do the sin, you satisfy the PSYCHOLOGICAL NEED TO FEEL you
are doing it, BUT there is always some reason why it MUST NOT BE NOW and not stain a
meritorious thing that you must do meanwhile. Of course you NEVER DO THE SIN. There must
always be a reason to keep putting it off, even if the reason is not profound (I must
first eat chocolate, today is Cousin Shmerel's birthday). NOT VIOLATING G-D'S WILL IS VERY
PROFOUND! Always have a qualified rov to whom you can take questions and requests for
instruction and encouragement.
The Torah has categories of protective laws
(e.g. harchaka, syag) to keep people an extra step away from sins. For example, a nazir
(who may not consume grape products) cannot approach or enter a vineyard; you may not put
milk and meat on the same surface; a couple does not hand articles directly to one another
before mikva; one does not touch "muktza" (things that may not be used or which
can lead to a violation if handled on shabos); we do not say innocent things in ways that
could be misunderstood as lying, deception, slander or bad news. Analyze your relationship
and design your own "protective laws" to stay away from nisyonos (trials) or
subjectivity, and to keep distant from weak or trouble spots. But, some people get stuck
or perverse, go overboard or lose perspective, and the idea of "extra laws"
backfires. We know the joke about the "frum" lady who blow-torched everyone's
fingers at her door so no one would bring chametz in on Pesach. Chances are, if one's
being "frum" hurts anybody else ever, in any way, it is probably not truly frum.
Remember that at Sinai, G-d gave two luchos (stone tablets with mitzvos) - including one
for bain odom lechavairo (interpersonal obligations). If one's "frumkeit" hurts
someone else, it is his/her own defect, and G-d has no part in it.
Keep your hands in your pockets whenever
you argue! Any form of physical violence (such as biting, scratching, temper tantrum,
angrily raising a hand or screaming, throwing an object or slapping) - must be viewed as
evil, unacceptable and an enemy of any relationship. Such events generally indicate that a
marriage is * soon to be over, or * very dysfunctional and destructive, causing more
misery than words could effectively convey. In either event, anger in a parent causes
enormous life-damaging psychological harm to the children! Anger, violence and loss of
control or of reason are simply not an option. King Solomon said (Proverbs 17:9),
"One who overlooks transgression, chases love." Forgetting about your spouse's
mistakes and faults is another essential and inescapable key to a loving, harmonious and
"Torah will go forth from Zion
[Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:3]." Did the Torah not go out from Sinai? We see that the
teachings from the great rabbis at the Sanhedrin (Torah's Primary Court next to the Holy
Temple) are considered fully incorporated into our Torah. Each MUST STUDY wisdom of Torah
and our sages.
Each of you: consider it a responsibility
to your marriage to constantly ask yourself, "How can I be an anger-proof,
fight-proof spouse?" AND to keep coming up with creative, resolution-oriented,
good-natured, implementable and effective long-run answers. Overcoming anger means
overcoming ego and arrogance. If doing things your way does not work, especially
repeatedly, say to yourself, "WOULD I RATHER BE MYSELF OR WOULD I RATHER BE
EFFECTIVE?...I OBVIOUSLY CAN'T BE BOTH!" You both must WANT to make the marriage
good, respectful, peaceful and pleasant; to have the will to do everything with a nice
attitude; to retain self-control; and to make each other calm and happy. As the Vilna Gaon
wrote to his son, "There is nothing that stands in the way of true will." You
can succeed if you both truly have - and apply - the will!
THREE DOZEN RULES FOR
ANGER-FREE EXPRESSION AND HANDLING OF YOUR FEELINGS AND ARGUMENTS [Introduction]
In the previous article, we spoke about
becoming "an anger-free, fight-free spouse." So as not to leave you stuck, we
now continue with three dozen practical methods for achieving this noble, obligatory - and
difficult - goal. You might want to save these installments [introduction and 36 rules].
The mitzva to "love your fellow Jew as
yourself" applies to your spouse (Kidushin 41a). It may seem obvious, but there are
plenty of people who are kind and loving to strangers but forget to be kind and loving
with their spouse and family, where the obligation is greatest.
To love one's fellow Jew, a person must be
very careful never to grow angry at others; for when a person is angry at others he not
only feels no love for them, but he may even hate them and wish them harm (Erech Apayim).
Pirkei Avos (chapter 5) tells us that he
who is quick to anger and slow to appeasement is evil and that he who is slow to anger and
quick to appeasement is G-dly.
Idolatry is one of three sins for which one
is required to give his life and thereby not transgress. The midrash says that
"Anyone who is angry is as worshipping idolatry." We see that anger is so evil
that one must give his life before transgressing. But, why do Chazal equate anger with
idolatry? What is the comparison?
Idolatry means that one accepts the object
of worship as a deity, subjugates his will, and he serves the will of that entity. When
one is overcome by anger; the anger takes over his mind, personality and behavior. Like a
god, the anger dictates what the person does. The will of Hashem Yisborach is negated. The
person is guilty of idolatry. He replaces Hashem with the "god" of anger,
rachmana litzlon. What is worse, THE PERSON IS HIS OWN IDOL! He worships himself as his
own god when angry! This is the height of arrogance and G-d says of the arrogant (Arachin
15b), "I and he cannot live together in the same world." In contrast, of all
good things in the world, "Humility is greater than them all (Avoda Zora 20b)."
Remember that refraining from anger (or any
sin) is the will of G-d. There is never an issue of "being yourself" or doing
what you want. G-d requires fear and love of Him, that you never do anything that violates
His will, no matter how tempting, no matter how big a test. Avrohom told his wife Sora to
say that she is his sister, so the Philistines would not kill him to take her because,
"There is no fear of G-d in this place" (Genesis 20:11). Only fear of G-d
assures that one will choose to behave properly at all times.
The Jew must never be angry. The gemora
obligates us to constantly turn anger out of our heart and to train ourselves, instead, to
be ongoingly gentle (Taanis 4a). It is difficult, but Chazal make it clear that working to
replace anger with gentleness is an inescapable, ongoing and lifelong requirement.
The midrash (Vayikra Raba) says that
"Derech eretz (polite, civil, thoughtful behavior) comes before Torah. A prerequisite
to being a Torah Jew is behaving at all times with derech eretz. Without the prerequisite,
what is one's Torah? And, never let "frum principles" ever be used to violate
derech eretz. When Hashem told Moshe to leave Yisro and go to Egypt to save the Jewish
people, Moshe first went to Yisro to ask permission to leave to go to Egypt (Exodus 4:18).
DERECH ERETZ FOR A PRIEST TO IDOLATRY CAME BEFORE A COMMAND DIRECTLY FROM HASHEM! The
Arizal said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro that he had a ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration)
that if the two of them went (from their town of Tzfas) to Jerusalem right away, they
would bring Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said that he would just tell his wife that he is
leaving for Jerusalem. When he came back, ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the
time he took to say goodbye to his wife, the opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi
Yisroel Salanter, the "Father of the Mussar Movement," said that we see from
this that you cannot bring Moshiach if it means doing so on the "cheshbon" of
one's wife. It was more important that Rabbi Kordevaro give respect to his wife than bring
Moshiach with the great Arizal!
In close relationships, the pressures of
life and the prospects for provocation that naturally come out of close and constant
relating, make anger an ongoing threat to peace. Therefore, I am providing this
introduction and the coming 36 rules which, if applied, will help your "batting
average" and keep your relationships - especially with your spouse and children -
gentle, harmonious, workable and G-dly. Even if you are not perfect, never stop working on
being continually anger-free and peaceful with people, and on being a better person. With
effort and dedication, you'll get better and better over time. As in all Torah
"projects," have a rov for questions and encouragement.
THREE DOZEN RULES FOR
ANGER-FREE EXPRESSION AND HANDLING OF YOUR FEELINGS AND ARGUMENTS [continuation of
We are writing the introduction to three
dozen rules for making oneself "an anger-proof and fight-proof spouse." You
might want to save these installments. We started with words of introduction in the
previous installment, in which we mentioned that the mitzva to "love your fellow Jew
as yourself" applies even to the person you marry (Kidushin 41a), is blocked by anger
because anger causes hate and harm (Erech Apayim), that anger is evil (Pirkei Avos 5), is
equated with idolatry (midrash) and we are constantly obligated to eliminate anger and to
train ourselves, instead, to be ongoingly gentle (Taanis 4a) and humble (Avoda Zora 20b).
We have a full-time obligation to have yiras Shomayim (fear of G-d, so we always choose to
do the right thing), to behave with derech eretz (civil, thoughtful and polite conduct)
and to not use exalted-sounding phony "frum principles" to violate the
respectful, good and considerate treatment that spouses constantly owe one another.
When you have questions or trying
situations, get da'as Torah. People make serious mistakes when they are not equipped to
learn or apply Torah themselves. For example, one man said he may speak during the silent
Shmoneh Esray because the Shulchan Aruch only prohibits speaking for the out-loud Shmoneh
Esray. The Shulchan Aruch prohibits saying the silent Shmoneh Esray out loud. Therefore,
it is understood without the Shulchan Aruch saying so that talking, all the moreso, is
prohibited during the silent Shmoneh Esray! As another example, the gemora (Sota 3b) says
that when a woman is angry it destroys her home and when the husband is angry it is
nothing at all. A man thought that this gives him permission to be angry with his wife or
children. The gemora is talking about a blurting out due to frustration or pressure, from
an otherwise normal person. A woman can get more emotional and excited than a man. But the
gemora is talking about basically psychologically normal people with reasonable midos
(character). If someone is neurotic, selfish, immature or evil; either partner can destroy
their home, each is responsible for all damage or hurt caused and each is obligated to do
all that is possible to fix their midos and psychological health. As Rabbi Elimelech of
Lizinsk says, "A person is born only to change his nature." We are created
imperfect for the purpose of making ourselves more and more perfect throughout life. The
Gra says that working on midos each moment is the first purpose of human life. The Torah
requires us to emulate G-d's kind and holy actions (Sota 14a) and traits (Rambam Dayos
1:5-6). Among these are "slow to anger" (Exodus 34:6).
Having patience for another Jew is
considered by Heaven to be one of the greatest acts of kindness possible, is rewarded by
Heaven with commensurate enormity and when one is not patient, especially when this is at
the expense of another Jew, his prayers are torn by Heaven and the Divine Presence leaves
the Jewish people (Brachos 5b - 6a with Tosfos). To not be patient is very serious.
Patience is a trait that is sorely lacking in our generation, and this is probably the
cause of many catastrophes and punishments sent by Heaven to earth. It is very tempting to
be impatient, selfish, to give in to strong feelings. We quoted the gemora which says that
humility is the greatest and most fundamental good mida/trait. Sefer Alufainu Misubalim
writes that patience is the measure of how much humility one has. When one lacks patience,
the Torah considers him/her to be a "spiritual disaster." When one lacks
patience; (s)he is arrogant and self-pre-occupied; (s)he will be much quicker to anger and
to other behaviors that negate, hurt, abuse and alienate others; and his/her behaviors and
characteristics will tend to discredit him/her in the eyes of others. In contrast, WHEN A
JEW ACTS WITH PATIENCE IN A WAY THAT BENEFITS ANOTHER JEW OR CONQUERS AN URGE TO SIN, THE
MEASURE OF REWARD IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MEASURES OF REWARD THAT IS EVER GIVEN BY HEAVEN
Rabbi Chayim MiVelozhin writes (Ruach
Chayim) that "In every word that comes out of one's mouth there is a portion of one's
soul." By one's words, we know "who" that person is and what level his soul
is on. A person is composed of animal body and G-dly soul. If one's life is dictated by
his body, he is near the level of animal (physical). If one's life is dictated by his
soul, he is near the level of angel (spiritual). WE CAN TELL IF A PERSON IS MORE ANIMAL OR
ANGEL BY THE WORDS THAT COME OUT OF HIS MOUTH! If his speech is angry, arrogant, nasty,
vulgar, mean, selfish, crooked, etc., he shows himself to be like an animal. If his words
are Torah, kindness, mitzvos, altruism, humility, tshuvah, prayer, brachos, truth, etc.,
he shows himself to be G-dly. When one leaves this world, he only has his soul. His words
indicate whether his soul will be ready for eternity with G-d. It's his choice at every
moment of life.
Twice a day the Jew is obligated to say the
three paragraphs of "Shma." When saying the actual word "Shma," the
halacha is to have in mind that you accept the "ol malchus Shomayim [rules of the
Kingdom of Heaven]." The word "Shma" suggests this because the letters of
Shma are the same as the three initials of the phrase "ol malchus Shomayim:"
ayin, mem and shin. However, it is a question that the initial letters of "ol malchus
Shomayim" are in THE REVERSE ORDER of the letters as they occur in the word
"Shma:" shin, mem and ayin. If the letters of the word Shma are to suggest
subjugation to the law of G-d, why are the initials of the phrase by which we accept His
rule reversed? G-d created Hebrew and could have invented a word: ayin, mem and then shin?
I think that accepting G-d's rule has to
include: even when it looks to us that things should be the opposite of what G-d wants and
does. WE HAVE TO ACCEPT HIS RULERSHIP ON HIS TERMS, ACCORDING TO WHAT HE WANTS AND HOW HE
RUNS THE WORLD. Even when we don't understand or like His will or His ways, we have to be
loyal. When a person is angry [or has any sin/temptation] HE WANTS THE REVERSE OF
ACCEPTANCE OF THE RULE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. This is a classic example of when the Jew
has KEEP HIM/HERSELF SUBJUGATED TO G-D on His terms!
THREE DOZEN RULES FOR
ANGER-FREE EXPRESSION AND HANDLING OF YOUR FEELINGS AND ARGUMENTS [the 36 rules]
We proceed to the 36 rules. You might want
to save this article on three dozen rules for being "an anger-free and fight-free
1. Assume yourself to be wrong - do you
have PROOF the other person is? Have you exhausted every avenue of benefit of doubt? Think
through the other's side of the story before you say your first word.
2. The orientation in your relationship is
to give to each other, not to take, demand, expect or tear down.
3. Train yourself to think through your
behaviors, reactions and statements - in advance - so you will never do or say a thing
which will have a destructive or hurtful consequence, and which you will regret later.
4. How may the other be hurting; calling
for your help, understanding or emotional support?
5. Listen attentively, steadily and
6. Factor in gender differences - how is
"other-genderness" responsible for the other's conduct (requiring understanding,
7. Have the will to please the other. You
should care enough that if the other is sad, disappointed or displeased; it makes you feel
just as bad.
8. Recognize and verbally acknowledge the
other's side. Realize that if you "win," the relationship loses. The
"team" must win.
9. Be responsible to love, respect and act
only for the good of the other - the relationship is bigger than any object of argument.
10. Remember that G-d pays us "measure
for measure" for how we treat others, for good and bad.
11. Do the four steps of tshuva if you ever
wrong the other (feel sincere remorse, admit, commit to never do the wrong again and
appease the other to the point of voluntarily forgiving you).
12. Once an issue is resolved, move on;
forgive and forget. The Orchos Tzadikim writes that the wise person can transform bad
things into good things.
13. What is really the source of my
reaction? Discern if a past problem or wound or buried resentment or the accumulation of
past frustrations is coming up now.
14. If the other does not want to talk now,
or is not capable of rational interchange now, offer to be "available" later.
15. Speak (and reply) to the point and
substantively; but softly, politely, considerately and kindly. The gemora says that it is
more important to be sweet with people to never hurt their feelings than to be honest and
thereby hurting anyone's feelings.
16. Resolve quarrels or upset as soon as
possible, preferably before the end of that same day.
17. Remember that real human growth and
change is a slow process under the best of conditions. King Solomon [Proverbs 24:17] says
that a tzadik falls seven times and gets up. This means that even the most righteous
person stumbles on the road to human self-perfection. However, a key difference between
and good person and a bad person is that the good one keeps getting up and moving forward,
while the bad person stays there when he falls (repeatedly doing the same thing and
remaining the way he is). When the good person slips, he perseveres. If your relationship
partner slips; be patient, forgiving, supportive and understanding. Constructively help
the person to become a better person.
18. Always be humble. No one has any right
to make himself arrogant at another's expense. Next to G-d's greatness, any human being is
less than tiny. And, you are obligated "to walk meekly with your G-d (Micha
19. To avoid miscommunication, at every
step necessary, get verification of intended meaning. Never risk a fight over
20. Consistently have your tone, face,
gestures and body language conform with your words, so that the understandability of your
intended meaning is not corrupted by your other-than-verbal "signals."
21. Ask, "Is this resolution
satisfactory? If not, what else is needed for it to be?"
22. Keep your differences private, except
for people who objectively have the ability to be fair and to help. Never expose your
quarrel to others and never let meddlers get involved or, worse, take sides.
23. Be careful that your children are
always totally shielded from your differences.
24. Appreciate what you have in your
relationship partner - don't risk damaging or losing the positives. Keep perspective. How
does this interchange or upset fit into the "big picture" and your entire life?
It is probably petty, in long run terms.
25. A valid principle and an invalid
expression of it make you automatically wrong. A valid case is no license for invalid
behavior. You cannot separate a valid position from valid handling of it.
26. If you need a psychologist or other
mental health professional, he/she must be G-d fearing, knowing the difference between
traif and kosher therapies and who is either learned enough to handle religious questions
in the therapy or at least enough to take questions to a qualified rov.
27. The Talmud (Taanis 20b) says to
"Be as soft and bendable as a reed." Be gentle and adaptable with people.
28. When a question is beyond your ability
to handle peacefully or effectively, have the policy: "We don't have fights, we have
shaalos!" and call a qualified rov to get Torah instruction for what to do.
29. At the end of resolving any issue, end
on a positive note, to re-establish a nice atmosphere. Do something nice right away, build
good momentum - and keep it!
30. There is extra danger of fighting on
hectic erev shabos and erev yom tov days. Be vigilant to resolve arguments before these
days - and to not have new arguments on them!
31. Don't let anything destructive
(neurosis, ego, power-play, control quest, weakening in the thing that gave resolution,
frustration or any self-interest) bring degeneration or sabotage to your accomplishment. A
personal problem or shortcoming is never license to abuse the other or threaten the
relationship. If you must vent intense or hard-to-manage feelings, do so in ways that are
never at anyone else's expense. Go running or exercising till you have no more energy,
scream into a pillow when no one else is home, tear a phone book, hit a punching bag at a
gym. Deal with anti-social, offensive, hostile, hurtful, destructive or violent emotions
in private and so that no other living soul (except perhaps your counselor or therapist)
need know about this.
32. Never forget: half the relationship is
the other's property! Marriage is a full-time "exercise" in discipline,
self-control and unselfishness.
33. Never threaten. Make no threats of any
kind. Threats are only destructive.
34. Have empathy - how is the other feeling
about the situation and you? What does this mean you must do, in very practical terms, on
behalf of your partner and the relationship? What will it take to show you care - and be
35. Never disrupt the regular order of life
over the adversarial issue. Always keep to your normal order of life, even when there are
unavoidable or irritating quarrels. By keeping the tone, activities and
"atmosphere" of life as normal and consistent as possible at all times, fights
will not shake up your overall lives and relationship significantly. Keeping life steady
helps to minimize the destructive or destabilizing effect of arguments and sends the
message that the relationship is bigger than any disagreement. This, of course, makes
resolution and healing come much more easily, quickly and lastingly.
36. Refuse to fight. Breaking peace is just
never an option.