Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hanukkah Day 5 - Understanding Anger and Cultivating Compassion, Contentment, and Joy

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Another aspect of the observance of Hanukkah is that the lights from the hanukkiah are considered sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 21b) In other words, we shouldn't sit in an otherwise darkened room and read by the light of the candles from the hanukkiah.

We are not to make "ordinary use" of the candles. We must instead make extra-ordinary use of them. We must use them in ways that bring something new and different into our lives and our souls. We must gaze at them with the wondrous eyes of a child and allow the miracle of their light to pierce to the essential tiny point of light within our souls that is never obliterated, no matter how dark our days may seem, that spark of the Divine that exists in each of us. And when the outer light touches the inner light, then the fires of passion and energy and renewal will burn brightly within us and power us forward into the light of the day.

Hanukkah Day 1 - Dispelling Fear and Finding Courage
Hanukkah Day 2 - Acknowledging Greed and Encouraging Generosity
Hanukkah Day 3 - Eviscerating Guilt by Responding with Action
Hanukkah Day 4 - Diminishing Despair and Growing Trust and Faith
Hanukkah Day 5 - Understanding Anger and Cultivating Compassion, Contentment, and Joy

I'm not so sure what the opposite of anger is. One clear possibility - according to at least one dictionary - is "calm". But I think the answer is more complex than simply a measure of our state of being. Yes, in a given situation we may be either angry or calm (among other possibilities), but I would say the important question here is, What is causing us to feel anger? What is triggering our anger? 

If we are able to pause and examine our inner world when something angers us, we may often discover that underneath the anger is hurt. We are hurt, perhaps by the injustice of a situation, perhaps by something that touches our vulnerability, perhaps because we feel threatened or accused, and our response - either by reflex or over time - is often anger. We may then respond by lashing out at someone or something, or we may hold the anger in or push it aside. Understanding why we are angry can help us transform our emotions so that we are able to not simply remain calm, but to experience other emotions instead, such as compassion, contentment, and even joy. 

In Proverbs we read, "The candle of G!d is the soul of a person." (20:27) Within us is a light that is connected to something so much greater than our individual self. When anger flashes through us, we tend to lose the sense of that inner light, that candle of G!d. As we hold onto ourselves and stand in the tension of a painful or otherwise difficult situation, maintaining our concentration and our balance, we can allow that inner light to guide us, pointing us in the direction of a response that will be not only constructive, but also filled with compassion, and as a result, we may end up feeling instead contentment, instead of anger, and perhaps even joy.

May the light of the Holy One burn ever brighter in your soul and bring you to places you never dreamed of reaching.

Chag Urim Sameach - Happy Hanukkah!



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