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by Lawrence Stroll
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer

This week’s issue marks the return of Lawrence Stroll’s popular Between Friends column. In case you forgot, this column tracks the e-mail correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a ba’al teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for “more” (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.

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Dear Ari,

Thank you for your words of encouragement last week. While I recognize that part of Sabbath observance involves resting from the worries of the week, is this really something that’s achievable? I think it may be possible for me to try and keep an inner calm during the Sabbath, but what if someone pushes my buttons? Are you telling me that you’ve never become frustrated, upset, or angry on the Sabbath? These emotions are almost instinctive! Does G-d really expect us to simply be able to achieve some transcendental state of being where everything is so harmonious that we are impervious to anything that would otherwise be upsetting?

Sincerely, Not Trying to be Difficult

 

Dear David, You make some excellent points and raise great questions. So, let’s jump right into it. Is this achievable? Perhaps. Hashem wants us to try and not simply throw in the towel because we think that we are unable to accomplish something. And, what if someone pushes your buttons? The reality is that, unlike animals, human beings are in control of their emotions. People can only push those buttons that we allow them to push. You may not be in control of what happens, but you certainly are in control of how you deal with what happens.

You asked if I have ever become angry on the Sabbath? Of course I have. The important thing, however, is that I’m working on it; and this is no less important for any Jew interested in spiritual growth. And, finally, regarding G-d’s expectation of us. You might be better off directing that question to Him. One thing I can tell you is that Hashem does not ask us to do anything that is not within our potential to accomplish. And, Hashem does recognize that this might not be easy. If it were a cakewalk, we wouldn’t need to be reminded of it again in this week’s Torah portion.

On the topic of Sabbath observance, Moses instructs the Jewish people to not kindle a fire on the Sabbath. Of all the 39 major labors of the Sabbath, Rashi tries to understand why this particular activity was singled out. Without getting into the details of his explanation, it nevertheless remains quite noteworthy that the prohibition against kindling a fire is specifically enumerated. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, citing Rabbi Yeshaya Hurwitz, one of the leading Torah scholars of the 17th century, explains that the reference to kindling refers to the fire of anger; whether in the form of a "heated" argument, "blowing a fuse," or simply "fuming" with aggravation. He says that Shabbat is particularly a time when one should be careful to not get angry or involved in disputes. So, while it is important to guard ourselves against getting angry 24/7, Shabbat is a time when we need to be extra careful. Why is that?

Keeping the Sabbath is an expression of our recognition that Hashem created the world and is in control of the world. When we get angry, it is our expression (albeit, subconscious most of the time) that we are upset that things aren’t going our way. It is our audacity to think that things should go "my way" rather than "His way" that makes anger so damaging, especially on a day that should be glorifying Hashem as the one who ultimately controls how this world should be run.

The more we understand, appreciate, and internalize what our anger symbolizes, the greater our ability to control our anger in the face of uncomfortable situations. While I cannot promise you a quick fix solution, I can offer you a foolproof method for beginning to conquer this evil trait. Start out by selecting a block of time during Shabbat (somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour) where you personally commit to not getting angry and consciously focus on what not getting angry represents. Then, stick to it for as many weeks as it takes for you to treat this block of time as being very sacred. At the same time, recognize that this is a form of Sabbath observance, and pat yourself on the back for engaging in personal and spiritual growth. Once you start getting comfortable with this, you can then begin to increase your "observance" by gradual increments until you feel that you have greater control over your anger.

Now some questions of my own: Will this completely eliminate your anger every day of the week? Likely not. What about completely eliminating it on the Sabbath? Possibly yes. One thing I can guarantee; not working on this will certainly do absolutely nothing towards achieving a peaceful Shabbat.

Sincerely, Improving (15 minutes at a time)

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Lawrence Stroll is a financial planner and Family Wealth Counselor with Geller Financial Advisors in Atlanta.

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