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Can I be angry?

Current world events have been eliciting a flood of emotions from every Jewish person around the world. From shock to despair to anger, the rollercoaster we are all experiencing as a result of the terror attack on our brothers and sisters in Israel, and the subsequent expressions of antisemitism unfolding around the world, is unprecedented in our lifetime.

Most of all, we are angry. We are angry at the perpetrators, we are angry at the antisemites, we are angry at the politicians under whose watch this occurred, we are angry at the media for always seeming to slant things in favor of the “other side,” and some may even be angry at G-d, for how can a benevolent Creator allow for something like this to happen in His world.

These are all justified emotions, and to quote the Mishnah in the Ethics of Our Fathers, “Do not appease your friend at the height of his anger,” because when someone is angry due to a legitimate grievance, the last thing they need to be told is to “calm down.” We have the right to be angry for all the above reasons, but we should also consider the purpose of being angry.

Anger in order to let off steam might be helpful in the short term, but as Jews we always play the long game, and everything we do, including the emotions we express, should have a constructive purpose. We can play keyboard warrior on social media, but to what end? Do we vent just to get things off our chests, or do we hope to actually make a difference?

And the flip side of this is that even if you are not typically the type of person that gets angry, there are times that expressing anger can be constructive. You may be a naturally calm person and you prefer peaceful dialogue to arguing, but there comes a time when expressing emotions is called for and even the most serene person will get angry.

We learn this from Abraham, who was naturally a kind person; his soul was rooted in the attribute of “chesed” which meant that his ideal was to always view things with a positive attitude and approach challenges with kindness. He preferred the non-confrontational approach whenever possible. But then we read about him confronting G-d in order to try and save the people of Sodom, and suddenly Abraham employs emotion; as the wording in the Torah implies, he used harsh words to demand that G-d prevent the destruction.

His anger wasn’t because he wanted to get it off chest, he used harsh words because the situation called for them. He recognized the value of being emotional for constructive purposes, and he employed every tool possible in order to accomplish his goal. So despite naturally preferring the calm and yielding approach, he threw caution to the wind and took a stand, because lives depended on it.

Similarly today, we have a right and even a moral obligation to be angry. We can’t be passive about the horrors our family has been through, even if it means veering away from the typical politically correct style of interaction many of us usually prefer. With our people being targeted, no one should remain silent, we must be emotionally involved and we need to be angry.

But our anger needs to be constructive rather than destructive. We have choice in how we direct our words and our emotions, and just like Abraham, we must have a concrete goal in mind.

Our anger today should lead to more awareness of Judaism, more displays of Jewish pride, more mitzvahs being performed for the sake of our people’s safety, and above all, it needs to be heartfelt and real. That’s how we ensure that we will be constructive and continue to make the world a better and brighter place.

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