A Florida state senator has filed State Bill 1678, requiring anyone purchasing firearm ammunition to complete an online two-hour anger-management-training program. Does she think that explosions of anger occur because people lack easily acquired information? Imagine! Temper tantrums that disrupt air travel, road rage incidents and violence in the work place could be avoided by equipping people with data that can fit into a rather short brochure.
Now I will confess that I am quite incapable of conceiving what material could be found in ten bullet points that would calm furious air travelers and stabilize emotionally fragile individuals.
In about six paragraphs, I could provide you with the information you need to extract more battery life from your mobile phone. I can give you the data necessary in order to navigate a small boat safely from the West Coast to Hawaii. It will take longer than two hours, but we could do it. However, try as I might, I cannot imagine what online information will stop people from losing their tempers. We don’t explode in angry outbursts because we lack data. We are yielding to our lower selves and are manifesting, as well as encouraging, character weakness.
Please note that I didn’t say that feeling anger is a character weakness—I said that acting upon that anger is.
Ancient Jewish wisdom critiques Moses’ anger on three occasions:
…and he was angry with Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron…
And Moses was angry with the army officers…
…and Moses said to them, Why do you strive with me?…
Yet there were other occasions when Moses was not criticized for anger:
And Moses was very angry…
…and Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets…
…and Moses was angry with them…
What is the difference between these instances? In God’s blueprint for humanity, the problem is not that we experience anger. The problem is that we err, often with terrible consequences, when we act inappropriately in response to that anger.
It is worth noting that the Torah contains 365 negative commandments. That is to say that we are told not to do close to four hundred actions. Not even once are we prohibited from feeling anger. We are not even prohibited from displaying anger, especially as a carefully modulated communication for educational purposes. However, out-of-control emotional outbursts are poisonous. Acting in the grip of anger is seen as tantamount to idol worship.
It makes such sense that God doesn’t prohibit us from feeling anger. After all, sometimes good and proper conduct is fueled by righteous indignation. Sometimes anger at an injustice propels a necessary action. However, we are repeatedly warned that anger has the capacity to stimulate improper response.
We can train ourselves so that stimuli that at one time would have made us furious become a minor annoyance instead. We can even train ourselves to respond appropriately to a red haze of furious feeling. Controlling ourselves and avoiding acting inappropriately is a function of maturity and character strength, not of accessing information.
How do we achieve emotional maturity and self-control? That cannot take place through an online course, nor can it be accomplished in two hours. It takes constant practice and continual picking ourselves up after failure.
You see, every small triumph over childish indulgence strengthens character and makes the next challenge easier to overcome. Every failure sets one back and tempts us to give up. One of life’s greatest adventures is self-improvement. God gives us numerous opportunities each day, such as foolish politicians saying and doing silly things, to practice reacting appropriately (or perhaps not at all) to frustrating, annoying situations that seem designed to make us angry. Viewing these circumstances as self-improvement opportunities is the key.
Susan and I strive to provide entertaining guidance for character growth on our Ancient Jewish Wisdom television show. We’ve put four of our favorite shows on DVD (on sale this week). I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that two hours with Ancient Jewish Wisdom will be a more valuable investment towards character development than Florida’s proposed on-line course. Watch it and tell me what you think!
Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here
Why do you use incorrect grammar in the title of your book “Thou Shall Prosper,” instead of “Thou Shalt Prosper”? Anyone familiar with the King James Bible would know the proper verb forms for the second person singular pronoun.
Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE
This week’s Susan’s Musings: Delete
There comes a time in the life of email users when the inbox is too full. I reach that point regularly. Often, a half hour of surface tidying relieves enough of the bloated file to continue working. Sometimes, such as this week, that isn’t enough.
This time, I made the painful, and perhaps callous, decision…READ MORE