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Talmudic Treasures by Rabbi Ziona Zelazo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

May My mercy suppress My anger; Berakhot 7a

     Often when we feel angry with someone who hurt us in any way, we seem to forget all the positive qualities that still exist in that person. We may feel that revenge is essential and that the relationship is doomed. As the Jewish nation is approaching the High Holiday season, aka Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jewish people are encouraged to forgive those who hurt them, to love and be kind to those who are not exactly “loveable” and worthy. There are many who are faced with the serious dilemma how to forgive with kindness and compassion. People do not know how to take a complete primary, natural, and mature emotion such as anger and transform it to love and forgiveness. And worse is the fact that many feel guilty about not being able to bypass their anger.
            There is a lot to say about the ways to manage anger. I am sure you are aware of the many workshops and life coaching sessions that are offered worldwide. I personally know people who have been going to psychotherapy for years and years, yet, not being able to forgive an abusive father or attend lovingly to a friend who betrayed their trust. So, how about a new way to look at anger management?
           Actually, I do not have the perfect solution to offer you. But instead, I would like to share a very special text from the Gemara that is dear to me and gives me the chill everytime I read it. It might give us an important insight of what it means to manage anger. It is a text that teaches us that anger management is required not only of us, but also of God. The rabbis in the Talmud have no hesitations to claim that God has the need to pray, just like us; that God needs human’s blessings just the way human need God’s blessings; and that God needs to meditate on controlling anger with mercy, just like the way we are told to do.
The text of interest is in Berakhot 7a and starts with the following;

What does God pray? R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: “May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children through the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice.”
            The rabbis teach us that God may lack full control over God’s own actions and emotions, but God does not give up the wish to repair anger with mercy. It is an amazing thought that from all prayers, God needs to pray this particular prayer about repairing anger with mercy.
And the Gemara continues:
            It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha* says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense** and saw Akathriel, the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. God said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: ”May it be Your will that Your mercy may suppress Your anger and Your mercy may prevail over Your other attributes, so that You may deal with Your children according to the attribute of mercy and may, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice!” And God nodded to me with his head. From this we learn that the blessing of an ordinary person must not be considered lightly in your eyes.
* One of the lasts High Priests of the Second Temple, around the first century of the Common Era.
** Once a year, on Yom Kippur, only the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies.
            We see that God is asking a human for a blessing. Rabbi Ishmael blesses God with the same words that God uses in God’s own prayer. Mainly, that God should let the attribute for mercy win over the attribute for anger. Rabbi Ishmael wishes for God that God should conquer the inner psychological struggle, just the way we are encouraged to do over and over again. God is struggling along with us. Then, God nods to affirm the blessing with silence and acceptance. Rashi says that it means that God is saying Amen to Rabbi Ishmael’s prayer.
            God and Rabbi Ishmael are mirrors of each other and a there is a sense of intimacy between them. If we believe that we are created in the image of God, I would suggest that this scenario should be taken as a model of how to form our understanding of feeling of anger, mercy and forgiveness.  Perhaps we could be inspired and comforted by this image of God that is struggling to keep the balance between anger, mercy and judgment.  Perhaps we could take it upon ourselves to remember that it is OK for us to struggle with the same issues with no guilt as well.  

            Furthermore, I would suggest that when we keep meditate and remind ourselves that the goal is mercy, not anger, we might be able to shift things around subconsciously and gain the strength to easily forgive. And this way of thinking should be done not only before the High Holidays, but all year around. And then we may ask God to help us to forgive those who have hurt us.

            What are your issues with anger and forgiveness? Is this Gemara helpful to you at all?

© Rabbi Ziona Zelazo