Thursday, May 24, 2007

Respectful Anger

Is there a psychological stage of mourning where people and the media make innocent random references to 'fathers', 'parents', 'family', etc., and you get really angry at them or the context in which they made the reference, even though no one did anything wrong?

I was at a שיעור on שבועות night where someone referenced רמב"ם's Laws of Learning Torah:

משנה תורה — ספר המדע — הלכות תלמוד תורה — פרק ה

כשם שאדם מצווה בכבוד אביו וביראתו,
כך הוא חייב בכבוד רבו ויראתו;
ורבו, יתר מאביו:
שאביו הביאו לחיי העולם הזה;
ורבו, שלימדו חכמה, הביאו לחיי העולם הבא.

Mishneh Tora – Book of Knowledge – Laws of Learning Torah – Chapter 5 Law 1

Just as one is commanded regarding the honor and awe of one's father
so is one obligated in the honor and awe of one's rabbi
and his
rav, more than his av:
for his father brought him into the life of this world;
but his rabbi, who taught him Torah, brought him into the life of the coming world.

And so I was reading this directive on the source sheet, as formulated by Maimonides, and all I could think was, "Fine, sounds nice, simple and logical — but WTF are you supposed to do when your rav is a friend and your av is dead?!"
Here might be a good time to point to the Rabbi Without A Cause's post on Annoying Titles.
At a meal during יום־טוב, one of the friends through who(m) I met my rav commented on how weird it is to be at his shul and call him [Firstname] when everyone around is calling him Rabbi [Lastname]. And I was thinking, you think that's weird? Now imagine the opposite scenario.

Another incident over שבועות (where i feel i was legitimately angry)... a visiting rabbi was speaking at a minyan geared towards relatively young people in this area (note: i was not home) about the importance of learning Torah, and how it's a commandment like any other — so how much you learn doesn't matter nearly as much as simply learning at all. He referenced the גמרא about the questions they ask you when you die. What really pissed me off was that he started off the speech mentioning the fact that later on that morning we would be saying יזכור, and then later on, in connection to the Questions They Ask You When You Die talked about how everyone there's parents would eventually, after 120 years need to answer those questions — as if no one in the room was actually going to be saying יזכור for their dead parents less than an hour later. I went up to him when I saw him later on during the day and told him not to do that, and he seemed apologetic.


Blogger The Anti-Semite said...


5/25/2007 8:08 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

summary: things piss me off.

5/25/2007 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I've no idea if anybody has defined this as a psychological stage of mourning, but it certainly happened to me a lot. Hhaggim were always particularly hard in the first place, partly because of Yizkor (which I must say I am very happy that Sephardim don't do because I just find it too much to take, but for the first year after my mother died we were in an Ashkenazi community in hhu"l), and partly because hhaggim are so full of memories of one's parent/s that it seems to make no sense that the hhag is even happening if they aren't there.

5/25/2007 11:47 AM  
Blogger Shoshana said...

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross delineated the five stages of grief, the 2nd of which is anger. Her stages are specifically discussed in dealing with one's own impending death, but also apply to anyone who is grieving after a traumatic incident. Anger is a completely, totally normal part of the grief process and I'm not at all surprised that you are experiencing it. I hope your pain eases, in the right time.

5/25/2007 12:04 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i was never really close with my family, so it's not like i spent Shavu‘os nostalgic about great Shavu‘ots that i spent with my father ע"ה... Pesahh was different though, because of the absurdist switch from having sedarim at home with my father to staying by our not-very-observant relatives, some of whom i get along with even worse than i get along with my immediate family.

yizkor i actually found disappointingly matter-of-fact. i expected something dramatic and complex, but it was just 'say this paragraph.... insert name here'. the first time i said it (and lit a yahrzeit candle), at the end of Pesahh, it felt much more real and significant... but yesterday, it felt like going through the motions.

which brings me to...


thanks, i knew it sounded familiar. my problem is that Kübler-Ross seems to be talking about anger directed at the situation itself — at my father for dying, or God... at least consciously, i'm not feeling that. i'm just angry in general; at things in my life that have nothing to do with this, and at random references to normality.

5/25/2007 2:08 PM  
Blogger The Anti-Semite said...

As much as I resent being a harbringer of bad news, there's just no other way to put it: things p'ing one off are just an integral part of life. You'll be hurt by others and yourself no matter what, for a plethora of reasons ranging from lack of attention to being screwed for gain to outright meaneness. There's no real remedy for it, but you can soothe it in different ways. Growing a thick skin is one, but the side effect usually is that then you become insensitive to thers.
Good music, a good friend, good food and a good smoke can help. At least temporarily.

"Pull the bottle drown your sorrows...."

5/27/2007 7:55 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I've noticed that in general that often people choose to get upset at little things to avoid dealing with the big things that are upsetting them. Because the little things seem manageable as opposed to the big things. in this case, it would be easier to be upset at other people mentioning parents, or assuming everyone still has both parents, than to be upset that your father is dead.
I have no idea if this is what's bothering you but I figured it was worth throwing it out there.

-sarah m

5/28/2007 4:38 PM  
Anonymous SpringBird said...

Had I been there (and I should've been), I would have been really mad too...
Almost as mad as the time I davened in a "teen" minyan, and instead of sending the non-Yizkor-sayers out of shul, they said, "Whoever has to say Yizkor should please leave the room now." Then they proceeded to give the d'var torah while people were saying Yizkor to themselves outside.
That's the last time I went to that minyan for Yom Tov.

The people I know who are most sensitive about not making assumptions when speaking publicly are often people who have suffered greatly themselves, and who thus are always sensitive to the struggles, suffering, and losses of others.

5/29/2007 5:39 PM  
Anonymous SpringBird said...

Sarah -

I agree with you in essence, but I object to your use of the word "choose."
Often, our grieving reactions are controlled subconsciously; we don't really *choose* what to get upset at - it just happens.
It's a survival mechanism - we feel the "big" loss too deeply, and our psyches cant handle it, so our subconscious shunts the feeling out in little managable packets.
And you usually can't "force" yourself to send the grief over to the "real" thing you're grieving about. Believe me, I've tried. The most I can manage is to be _aware_ that when I'm reacting to the little things, I'm really grieving for the big thing.
I know too many people who feel guilty for not having the *proper* grief reaction. So I think it's important to highlight that these reactions just happen - we don't choose them, and there is no value judgment assigned to these emotions.
It's not "wrong" to get upset at little things. Nor is it "right" to get upset over the big thing that's "really" upsetting you deep down.

5/29/2007 5:55 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I think it makes complete sense that you would be getting angry at innocent references that people don't mean at all. They remind you of your loss, which you are very conscious of - and which they are not conscious of at all. You have a different (and legitimate) context for what they say. When my mother died (in 1981) I reacted in the same way.

6/03/2007 4:52 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i'll take the music, the friends, and the food; you can keep the smoke and the bottle, though :-P . although, one of the features of aveilut is that music, friends and food get pushed away to a certain degree.


other people have pointed that out too; i'm sure it's possible, it's certainly as good an explanation as any.


The people I know who are most sensitive about not making assumptions when speaking publicly are often people who have suffered greatly themselves, and who thus are always sensitive to the struggles, suffering, and losses of others.

But that creates a horrible dilemma — how do you teach people to be sensitive, caring human beings without making them go through a process of suffering? How do you teach someone empathy, if they can't really imagine what it must be like in the other person's place?



6/04/2007 5:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home