Believe it or not, Rav Elyashiv’s grandfather invented the first anger-management program.
In secular circles, it is thought that anger-management programs first originated in the 1970s by clinical psychologist Dr. Raymond Novaco, a professor at the University of California at Irvine. Interestingly, Rav Moshe Levinson, zt’l, the grandfather of Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, developed an anger-management program well before that. In 1910, Rav Levinson printed his highly developed anger-management program in a sefer titled “M’aneh Rach.” It was published in Piotrków Trybunalski, in Congress Poland, then a puppet state of the Czarist Russian Empire. It was Rav Levinson’s third sefer.
Background To The Sefer
The sefer had a haskamah from the Ridbaz, the av beis din of Slutzk. The Ridbaz, however, left to America and then to Eretz Yisrael in 1900, so Rav Levinson must have been working on it for a while and probably finished it well before 1900.
The M’aneh Rach was carefully analyzed in a remarkable new book titled Fundamentals of Jewish Conflict Resolution, by Dr. Howard Kaminsky. Rav Levinson states that there is nothing particularly new in his program; rather, he gathered together all the rabbinic statements that pertain to anger and he explains them. He also organizes and arranges them in such a manner that they constitute a genuine program. In addition, Rav Levinson provides advice, strategies, and suggestions.
Rav Levinson writes that if someone reviews his work two or three times, he should be able to conquer anger. He writes that the fact that the points are all gathered together and explained will provide the person with much greater clarity on the matter. He will thus be able to surmount the impediments to overcoming an anger problem.
Rav Levinson writes that if one combines strategies in both cognition and behavior, he will succeed in overcoming anger. One must also engage in introspection and develop self-awareness. Rav Levinson provides strategies to gain this self-awareness.
Dr. Kaminsky points out that a source that Rav Levinson used in his M’aneh Rach is the Reishis Chochmah by Rav Eliyahu de Vidas. He lived in the 1500s, some 400 years before Rav Levinson.
So what does Rav Levinson advise?
- Avoid people and situations that are sources of stress.
- When you feel that you are getting angry, don’t respond.
- When it is necessary to respond, let it percolate overnight. This suggestion is also found in the Sefer Chassidim (siman 83 and siman 655), Dr. Kaminsky points out.
- When it is necessary to respond, it should be done in a gentle and soft tone.
- One should give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
- One should try to take the other person’s perspective rather than blast them.
- Time should be spent thinking about how bad it is to lose one’s temper.
- Time should also be spent thinking about how great the merit is to control one’s anger.
- One should be aware of both the short-term and long-term implications of losing one’s temper.
- One should put into perspective the comment that caused him or her to get upset in the first place.
- One should be aware of the notion of middah k’neged middah—what goes around comes around. If you are quick to forgive and overlook, then that is how Hashem will deal with you in the future. If, however, you jump on every possible interpretation of another person’s slip-up, then that is how Hashem will react to your foibles, slip-ups, and issues.
- One should also be aware that everything that Hashem does is for a reason—including what just happened that caused you to become angry. You, however, have the capability of controlling your response.
Rav Levinson places an extraordinary emphasis on the notion of metinus, deliberation, the idea of slowing down our reactions to provocations. It is a theme that he stresses time and again.
In the period of Sefirah, especially after the period of BaHaB sets in, it is worthwhile for us to strive to develop our character traits. The best middah to start with is ka’as, anger. This is because it can affect so many other people. Our anger can destroy our marriages, our children’s lives, our work atmosphere, and so many other areas of life. Chazal compare anger to avodah zarah, idol worship, for a reason.
For those who will find the Hebrew in M’aneh Rach too difficult, a fascinating overview of this work, as well as other similar ones, can be found in Dr. Kaminsky’s Fundamentals of Jewish Conflict Resolution, chapter nine, titled Jewish Anger Management.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.