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Sowing Seeds of Anger

On Thursday, I sat in the synagogue at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and heard a preacher captivate the entire community with a beautifully crafted, exquisitely presented sermon on anger. I sat transfixed, thinking she was talking to ME, even as (I learned later) others thought she was talking to THEM. This young darshan (Torah interpreter) Jocee Hudson, a fifth year Rabbinical student, began by saying: A few months ago, I planted seeds of anger within myself. Anger. And I am tending to these seedlings with such care and gentleness. I’m trying hard not to over-water them. I’m trying to keep them in the sunlight. I’m trying to talk to these anger-seeds, softly, to help them grow.
Teaching that the English word “anger” comes from a Norse word, “ang,” which means loss or grief and that anger, then, is the loss or grief we feel when we consider what could be, if it weren’t for injustice, Jocee urged us, quietly and passionately, to embrace anger to transform the world.

Many of us are afraid of anger, because anger in some people leads to acts of violence and destruction. But what if it led to acts of transformation, peaceful transformation, and ethical societal change? Jocee noted that being outraged means knowing what values are central to who we are—and feeling those values deep within us—feeling them in our stomachs. Being outraged means expressing anger when society crosses over that line between morality and immorality. Being a good leader means building communities in which everyone feels outrage if we step over that line.

Frankly, it is scary to speak about outrage to people who often only want us to “be nice” and who do not want to hear about critiques. Yet we teach that the job of the rabbi is

To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

Or as Jocee reminded us that Isaiah said (Isaiah 1:14-17): God is angry—angry at the injustice in our world. Isaiah hurls Divine words at his community; “Your new moons and fixed seasons fill Me with loathing! They have become a burden to Me, I cannot endure them. And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you….Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.”

Just as we speak about God of a Comforter or a Healer or a Peace-maker or …, so too must we remember that in our tradition, surely God gets angry when humans fail to rise to the level of ethical behavior that we might expect. Perhaps the God of Anger does not punish in our world today, but, says Jocee, let us remember that “Anger” is the term that we, in our limited human vocabulary, can use to point toward God’s reaction to us when we allow the vulnerable to remain powerless.

Hmmm, peaceful anger or anger that leads to peaceful change. Interesting, huh?

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