It all boils down to knowing Who is in charge.
Everything happens for a reason.
Much of life is challenging you to polish your middot, to refine your character in a variety of different ways to develop into the best person YOU individually can be.
This is not an easy mission.
Pushing Back Against Anger Means Pushing Back Against Modern Society
American society admired people who kept their head when everyone else was losing theirs.
People who presented their most heartfelt ideas packaged in eloquence, sensibility, thoughtfulness, and self-composure proved more convincing than shrieking hysterics & thuggery.
Nasty behavior & vengeful acts exposed you as a nutjob of poor character, rather than the social media sensation such people become today.
I remember in the 1980s, an undercurrent existed that encouraged young women to be angry, foul-mouthed, loud, aggressive narcissists—just like the worst of men.
Feminists considered this equality & pushed for it.
This was a far cry (and a steep drop) from the composed, sensible, competent, nurturing character previously prized as feminine & valued as a civilizing influence on society.
Unfortunately, with this unhealthy pressure on recent generations of girls, we've seen female crime, female violence, maternal child abuse, self-harming behaviors in girls & women, suicide, and more massively shoot up.
(We have also seen male violence & abuse against women & children soar, despite all the blather about women's rights, making women more assertive, etc. I label it as "blather" because it hasn't worked.)
With decades of people raised to feel offended, self-righteous, entitled, angry (as long as they feel this way about LIBERAL VALUES ONLY) and to express themselves with self-righteous anger, chutzpah, sarcasm, and derision...the Jewish value of self-composure seems weak or silly in comparison.
Some even feel that self-composure is unhealthy; like a composed person is repressed or hypocritical or dishonest or cowardly or weak.
Ever meet people (or been one yourself) who believe that expressing negative opinions and negative emotions displays "honesty" & "courage" while considering positive opinions and happiness as "fake" or "naïve" or "weak"?
Ever had anyone pressure you to display anger or speak lashon hara about a group or person or express some other type of negativity because you need to be more "real" or "honest" or because you need to act out "your authentic self"?
It's really, really common. I had to struggle with this myself because that attitude gets into every corner of society.
Important note: There is a time for saying something negative or displaying anger.
In fact, awareness of your true feelings & motivations—including negative feelings & motivations—remains an essential aspect of cheshbon hanefesh & teshuvah.
Likewise, pointing out negative aspects of life or movements or institutions can be done in a beneficial way for beneficial reasons.
There also exists the concept of lashon hara l'to'elet—speaking badly of someone for a truly beneficial purpose.
The problem comes when negativity & anger reign supreme and is considered the sign of honesty or courage.
HaKovesh Et Yitzro–HU HaGibbur!
Furthermore, Rambam states that while one needs to seek out the middle road regarding almost all traits, he makes an exception with anger.
You need to go to the extreme against anger.
Kosher-For-Pesach Thousand Island Dressing: It's All the Rage–Literally!
We'll call him Mustafa.
He retains an impressive knowledge of the laws of kashrut, to the point that he informed one of his Jewish employees not to do something because "it's nat bar nat."
He even managed to explain (somewhat) the basic concept of nat bar nat to the Jewish employee.
During Pesach, he makes sure that his non-Jewish employees and himself only enter his kosher-for-Pesach burger joint with their pitas double-wrapped and ensconced in a closed backpack.
They go outside to the parking lot to eat their chametz.
When an Arab employee tossed a couple of burgers on the grill for his own lunch, the Arab owner went ballistic, tearing the burgers off the grill & warning his hapless employee that Jewish customers can't know he's cooking them for himself and therefore may suspect the restaurant of bishul nochri.
"NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!" said Mustafa. "ASK A JEW TO PUT THEM ON FOR YOU NEXT TIME!!"
This being the Middle East, anger is considered the most powerful way to get your point across.
Middle Eastern culture has a tendency to view the most enraged & violent person as the most powerful.
Unfortunately, this sets up a dynamic in which people really may not listen when you speak calmly yet firmly.
Years of being screamed at or even assaulted conditions people to NOT take calm behavior seriously.
Would the Arab employee had listened & obeyed just as well if Mustafa had spoken to him assertively without screaming & ripping the burgers off the grill?
Maybe...but maybe not.
Anyway, during this past Pesach, a tough older secular Jewish man made a 500-shekel order.
(The buns are made from potato flour or something, instead of chametz.)
When the tough old Jew came to pick up his order, he discovered the restaurant had run out of kosher-for-Pesach Thousand Island dressing.
This meant mutiny.
The tough old secular Jew started shouting that he should have been informed of this over the phone before he closed on the order.
Therefore, he insisted on returning his order & demanded a refund.
Mustafa went into full-rage mode. (He already lost a lot of money during the covid-19 lockdowns and is anyway known for being uncompromising when it comes to his finances.)
The tough old secular Jew pushed up his sleeves and started showing off his proficiency in Arabic curses, and hollering at Mustafa that they could "take this outside" & solve the issue there.
Mustafa stormed out of his burger joint to a nearby burger joint and asked for a bunch of their kosher-for-Pesach Thousand Island dressing.
(They had a previous agreement with the neighboring burger joint to utilize their kosher-for-Pesach items when necessary. If I understood correctly, Mustafa "asked" by storming into their kitchen while—by way of explanation—raging about what was happening in his restaurant and grabbed up a bunch of their Thousand Island packets.)
Returning to his own burger joint, Mustafa then flung by fistfuls the packets of kosher-for-Pesach Thousand Island dressing at the tough old secular guy, accompanied by shouting & insults.
Happily, that resolved the initial problem and the tough old secular guy accepted the order (along with the Thousand Island dressing from the other restaurant), Mustafa got to keep his 500 shekels, and the employees enjoyed the unexpected entertainment.
An Alternative to Kosher-For-Pesach Thousand-Island-Dressing-Induced Anger
For example, had the old secular Jew stated his disappointment in the omission of kosher-for-Pesach Thousand Island dressing, requesting a solution...would that not have achieved the same result—i.e., borrowing from the neighboring restaurant?
And had Mustafa remained calm in the face of the tough old secular Jew's demand for a refund, saying, "I'm very sorry about the omission, sir. We'd be happy to accommodate you by acquiring for you kosher-for-Pesach Thousand Island dressing from our neighbors"—wouldn't that have achieved the same result?
While I personally identify with the man's passion for Thousand Island dressing because it's my favorite too, the question still remains:
Why all the drama & bi-lingual cursing and shouting & near-violence over kosher-for-Pesach Thousand Island dressing?
We see that both Mustafa and the old secular guy suffer from a culturally encouraged tendency toward anger & aggression as problem-solving tools—totally in contrast to what Hashem really wants for us.
Note: I realize that some of you yearn to make aliyah in order to experience such chol hamoed entertainment live & in-person. I'm sorry to disappoint by informing you that such scenarios do not happen regularly. [ha-ha]
Some Facts about Anger
Now THAT'S honest!
As Rav Miller explains on page 4:
It’s not easy.
Just listening to these words is not enough.
A person must train himself for a long time until this middah is uprooted.
“No matter what happens,” he tells himself again and again, “I’m not going to get angry even if I’m justified a hundred percent.”
That’s how he has to think.
Could be you think you’re a hundred percent right and the other person is a hundred percent wrong, but no matter, “I’m not going to be angry no matter what.”
It’s not easy, but it has to be done.
On pages 6-8, Rav Miller wittily & compelling describes the benefit of anger.
Any trait can be used for a mitzvah.
Anger is no exception.
In certain situations, anger provides wonderful motivation & momentum.
The gray area occurs when you feel anger emanating from a good reason, and should look at it...but not act upon it fully; you should moderate it with common sense & a good heart—like in chinuch, for example.
Anyone Here Dancing around a Golden Calf? Is There Any Hellenizing Going On?
But suppose you work dynamiting mountains for the Department of Highways and now you come home and you’re locked out of the house – you can’t find your key and your wife is out somewhere.
So will you take a piece of dynamite that you have in your work truck and put it near the door to blow the door open?
No, you can’t use such extreme means – dynamite is not for that.
Now, let’s say this man dynamites the door open and now he’s in the house.
It doesn’t end there – a man like that never knows when to stop. When the door is finally opened, he explodes with emotional dynamite:
“Why did you lock the latch from the inside? I was trying to get in all this time! Of course I tried the key! Don’t you have any consideration for me? I’m standing outside in the freezing cold! Don’t people here think about things before they do them?!”
A man like that is the biggest failure there is.
He’s a terror! Nobody wants him there!
His wife and his children wish he would go back to work.
And also because I think we've all been in this scenario before (stuck outside with the key unintentionally in the hole on the other side) and know how exasperating it is, AND...
...we unfortunately know people like the dynamite guy in the example.
He (or she!) has been our boss, co-worker, neighbor, "friend," parent, sibling, or spouse and yes, "terror" is no exaggeration!
"Nobody wants him there"—right on!
Rav Miller continues:
And that’s because he’s using his dynamite in the wrong place.
His children and his wife are not dancing around an eigel; and they’re not the Syrian-Greeks either.
Are you going to carry dynamite sticks in your pocket and every time someone tries to get in your way, you’ll throw a stick of dynamite at him?
No, you can’t throw dynamite around indiscriminately and you can’t use anger indiscriminately either - that’s how a house is destroyed.
...and it becomes a sickness of the soul that has terrible repercussions for a person.
You don't just destroy your own house with misused dynamite, but you destroy Hashem's House too—the Beit HaMikdash.
This also provides a good perspective.
Next time I feel the first boiling bubbles of anger, I can say to myself:
Wait a minute. Is anyone here dancing around a Golden Calf?
Are there any Syrian-Greeks here tromping over Torah values, like outlawing Shabbat, brit milah, or Rosh Chodesh?
No? Then I'd probably better rein it in!
How to Get Out of the Anger Gehinnom
He also offers tips to heal & prevent these Gehinnoms.
One of the biggest yetzer haras in our generation is dismissing so much delicious mussar as "only being for very great people" or "only possible for people 'back then'," or something that will take decades to achieve (so why bother with it so much now...).
A lot of people today (including some FFBs who, having learned Torah values from a young age, should know better) feel that if something is natural to you, then it's okay.
I knew of a FFB woman who cheerfully told people, "My grandmother was a screamer, my mom was a screamer, and I'm a screamer too!"
It's bizarre to me that she truly believed this meant she had no halachic obligation to at least attempt to moderate this tendency. How could she ignore so much of her education since the time she was in preschool?
(And no, please pop-psych lecture about her having little choice due to her family background & conditioning. I know so many people who grew up with shouting parents—or some other type of dysfunction—and davka despised the dysfunctional behavior and refuse to engage in it. Or at least do their best not to, even if they fall into it at times. Some realized exactly how wrong it was from their frum schooling and took chizuk from that.)
In the secular world, there's a movement to use genetics & inborn traits as an excuse or justification for everything.
So I've personally worked on this and met with a certain amount of success.
And yes, my personality naturally feels things deeply (including anger), and face challenges in this that derive from my culture of origin, upbringing, environment, and some challenging situations today.
Am I where I want to be?
I wish so much I was Little Miss Serenity & Simchat Chaim.
But I'm not.
On the other hand, there are situations that once got me fuming and now I barely remember they ever made me so angry because my instinctive reaction today is either humor or equanimity. Or I just go straight into problem-solving mode without all the boiling inner pressure.
Other situations still infuriate me, but I manage to keep my composure.
And though I'm ashamed to admit it, I still get angry when I know I should not.
One thing I've been working on the past few years is voice modulation.
Keeping one's voice low, composed and maintaining a tone that displays presence of mind does wonders.
It causes a mental shift that not only helps you to modulate your voice, but also focus on the actual issue, rather than how it all makes you feel.
People respect you more too when you do that.
I also feel much better about myself doing this.
A great way to earn self-esteem is via self-control.
Even people who feel relief via their own angry outbursts can learn to enjoy self-restraint.
I must admit that a very special woman mentored me about this issue, along with general stuff.
Seeing things from the perspective of Hashem running things can do a lot to alleviate anger (which is how my mentor helped me so much).
For example, realizing that Hashem wanted you do something a certain way can alleviate toxic shame and self-condemnation—two issues that often lead to anger.
Fear is another big anger-producer.
So focusing on emunah & bitachon can reduce anger by reducing fear.
Even if you really did something wrong, getting rid of all the excess gunk of toxic shame, self-condemnation, and fear enables you to focus on the actual issue of the wrongdoing rather than getting caught up in all the unhelpful emotional drama (toxic shame, fear, etc.) with which your yetzer hara attacks you.
So hopefully, that's some encouragement from a flawed imperfect person who hasn't conquered this, but definitely benefits from trying & has even made some progress.
Don't forget to check out the Practical Tip on page 15!