Ethics

For the week ending 26 November 2005 / 24 Heshvan 5766

Reacting to an Angry Outburst

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: How should one react to an angry outburst from someone which seems to be completely out of character but which causes you great pain?

Answer: When Rachel Imanu (the Matriarch Rachel), in deep despair over her childlessness, angrily demanded from her husband Yaakov Avinu (the Patriarch Yaakov) that he provide her with children or else she will die, his response was an angry one as well. It was G-d, he replied, who had withheld children from her, and He was the One to whom she must turn.

Our Talmudic Sages tell us that Yaakov was rebuked by G-d for thus responding to a woman in such deep despair, and as punishment for his insensitivity his children would someday be compelled to bow to Rachels son, a prediction of the scene decades later when the sons of Yaakovs other wives bowed to Rachels son in Egypt.

The lesson of this Midrash is that we must see in the uncharacteristic outburst of a normal person the powerful emotions responsible for the explosion and react with compassion rather than anger. Simply stating that you understand the outburst to be an expression of great pain and sympathize with the suffering will effect an immediate change in the disposition of your attacker.

The important thing to remember in making yourself capable of such temperance is that you are not really the target of the outburst and need not reply in kind as an act of self-defense. The tone of the outburst is only an indication of the pain. Rachel was not really blaming Yaakov for her barrenness but was merely giving vent to her profound frustration.

Let us take a cue from the Divine reaction to Yaakovs reaction and apply the lesson which our Sages derived from it.

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