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Let go of that pent-up anger and hatred!




This is an auspicious and thoughtful time, one that always feels quite momentous. It would have to be, considering it is a time of deep reflection and decision-making for us, and G-d decides who shall live and who shall not.

It is also a time when we consider the good and bad in our lives, and how we want to live. We spend time in shul, specifically listening to our learned rabbis for pearls of inspiration.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to spend quality time surrounded by my nearest and dearest, and the subject of Rosh Hashanah sermons came up.

I mentioned that I was moved by something my rabbi had said about creativity being a gift that should be used to benefit the world, but that it was not always used that way.

He had spoken about larger than life, moral, and value-based issues, which seemed so appropriate. However, not everyone had that experience.

Two friends said they were upset that their rabbi’s sermon was a political rant about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. They felt quite frustrated about it, because they said he had spoken as if they all agreed with his political views, when they didn’t. But more than that, they were upset that their time in shul, when they wanted to think about more lofty and spiritual things, became a time for a one-sided, hate-filled political tirade.

I chose not to ask which rabbi they were talking about or which shul they attended because it didn’t matter. In this job, I have been fortunate to get to know a great number of the most astonishingly learned and wise rabbonim, and I would hate to think that they were referring to any one of them.

However, it left me thinking about what it is we want or expect to hear from our rabbis, and whether it is the place of rabbis to talk about politics in shul.

The truth is, politics is life. When we are upset about our government over land-expropriation laws or higher petrol prices, that’s politics. You can’t escape it.

However, when we go to shul – particularly over the high holy days – we go to pray and get spiritual inspiration. We expect to get some food for thought about how we can do things better.

While there are many South African Jews who vehemently dislike Palestinians, and many others they call their enemies, do we need to be incited toward further hatred or disapproval in shul?

I don’t believe so. If it is a political sermon about seeing the good in others and trying to find peace and building bonds between nations, then I see the point. That is about lofty and moral issues that are political.

But we have enough hatred and ugliness in our lives. I don’t believe shul is the place to be adding to that.

I would love our high holy days to erase the hatred and pent up anger that we all hold to a greater or lesser degree. I am not sure if this problem is particularly South African, but it is a national dilemma nevertheless.

This is so damningly clear in the tragic death of Zalman Orlianski this week. I know everyone is looking to blame, and the person who beat Orlianski so badly that he died as a result of his wounds deserves the punishment he will get. However, this tragedy started with people fighting over a parking space, and ended in death.

What on earth could have been so bad that the man lost his temper to that degree that he could do that to another human being? At what point did he lose his ability to see the humanity in Orlianski? And, how is it possible that a parking spot became that important?

Road rage? No, simply rage. So many of us walk around with rage welling up in us at any given time, and it doesn’t take much to spark it.

It is so desperately sad that people in our country are like this. That same anger is in each one of us.

We are angry about so many things. About Cyril Ramaphosa talking in shul without a kippa. About the guy in the car in front who is driving too slowly. About the teacher who gave your child too much homework. About a waiter in a restaurant that brought the wrong order. About the rabbi who gave a politically charged sermon on Rosh Hashanah.

The point is, whatever we may feel, none of it is worth getting into a rage about. And so, if we achieve one thing over the high holy days, let it be that we start to see the good in others rather than only the bad. Let’s take that rage and punch a punching bag, dance it out, or go for a run, or a swim. Take it somewhere it cannot hurt someone else. Let us slow down and breathe, instead of giving life to our rage.

Don’t let Zalman Orlianski’s death be in vain. Let his death be a lesson to each and every one of us that anger, fury, and hatred is never worthwhile. It harms rather than heals. It devastates rather than helps.

Let’s work on this, and try and make the year 5779 a year of calm, peace, putting aside rage and hatred.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

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