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We all feel angry at times - it's part of life. But we still have choice whether we are going to stay in control of our anger or let it control us. In this week's Torah portion, Jacob's sons, Judah and Joseph, have a tense and potentially explosive confrontation. Even though there were plenty of reasons for them to feel angry, the men were able to control their anger and speak respectfully to each other. In life, we too have to know that even in our most angry moments, we still have the power to keep our behavior under control.
In our story, a boy discovers the ability to keep his cool.
"THE COOL VOLCANO"
If you saw me today, you would think I'm a pretty mellow guy. In fact, some of my friends have even started to call me Calm Calvin. It makes me laugh, because up until a few months ago they used to call me Volcano Cal, and with good reason, 'cause I would blow my top over the smallest things. That was until something happened put a cap on my volcano temper and changed me forever...
I had just finished swimming in the pool at our school. The water may have been cool, but I was burning mad. Wouldn't you be if someone had swiped your shampoo and towel? My buddy Marc had tried to calm me down, and had even let me use his stuff, but it was too late - once the 'Volcano' had erupted, there was no way to stop it.
"Whoever ripped me off is going to pay, and pay big!" I vowed. And soon enough I got my chance, because after we had changed, and were heading out of the locker room, I spotted my towel hanging over the door of one of the lockers.
Smoke coming out of my ears, I stomped over to get it and give a piece of my mind to whoever had the nerve to take it.
Marc, a peace-loving guy, hurried after me. "Cal, cool off man. I'm sure it was a mistake. Just take your things and forget about it. Why do you have to get so angry over a dumb towel..."
But it was too late. Maybe deep down I knew he was right, but even if I wanted to, I couldn't stop now. It was just beyond my control - once I got mad, there was no turning back.
Ignoring my friend, I started pounding on the locker to get everyone's attention. A few kids gathered around - they knew that when Cal got mad, there was going to be some action. "Whose locker is this!?" I bellowed.
At first, nobody said anything. The kid must have been too big a coward to face up to it, I thought, which only got me even madder. I started banging even louder, when I noticed a couple of the kids pointed behind me. Ah, so the jerk finally showed up? Well now he was going to get it!
I turned around, opened my mouth wide ... and then closed it right back up. Because standing there, holding my bottle of shampoo, was big Rick, the lifeguard! Not only was he twice my age, but he was built like a gorilla. I mean the guy was HUGE!
As he looked down at me, I felt myself shrinking into the size of an ant. But more amazingly, I felt my 'uncontrollable' anger shrink down to nothing.
"Something wrong kid?" he asked.
"Ah, um, no, nothing's wrong. I was just, er, wondering if you were, maybe done with my shampoo and towel yet. Not that I'm in any hurry..."
He looked closely at the bottle he was holding, and then handed it to me. "Oh, sorry kid, I must have grabbed the wrong stuff when I went to change."
"No problem, Rick, any time," I heard myself squeak, as I took the wet towel and backed away. I thought I heard a couple kids snickering behind me, but I didn't care. I wasn't ready to get killed over a stupid towel. I learned a big lesson that day, besides not to pick on kids twice my size. I learned how quickly I really could cool off my anger if I really wanted to. So from then on, no matter how mad I feel inside, I try to keep my cool and turn the volcano - if not exactly into an iceberg - then at least into a pleasant mountain.
Q. How did Calvin feel at first when he saw his missing towel?
A. He was really angry and felt like he had no choice but to yell at whoever took it.
Q. How did he feel when he saw it was the lifeguard who had it?
A. He saw he really could calm down, since he didn't want to fight with someone so big.
Q. What did Calvin discover from the 'towel incident?'
A. He had always thought that his anger was uncontrollable and that he had to act out his rage no matter what. But when he saw how quickly he could calm down when he wanted to avoid fighting with Rick, he discovered that his angry outbursts were really within his control.
Q. Is it wrong to ever feel angry?
A. No, the feeling of anger comes naturally when something happens we don't like or want. But we can control how we are going to respond to our angry feelings. We don't have to, nor should we, let it make us lose control and behave in a way that harms ourselves or others.
Ages 10 and Up
Q.Our sages compare getting angry to worshiping idols. How are these things similar? A. We only get angry when we feel that something is happening in a way we think it shouldn't be. In truth everything that happens is arranged by God with our ultimate good in mind. In that sense it really should be happening. To feel otherwise is thinking that everything should run according to the way we want it to, and not the way God wants it to. This is the essence if idol worship.
Q. Our sages consider how we handle anger to be a key indicator of our inner character. Why do you think this is so? A. The persona that someone shows to the world does not always reveal his true character. People often put on a mask that can give an inaccurate impression of their true personality. Anger removes the mask. It comes upon a person suddenly and causes him to react instinctively, often revealing parts of his personality that would otherwise remain below the surface. A person who can be genuinely angry and remain a mensch shows what he is really made of.