One of the things that Jews regularly ask our Creator is that God should ‘turn His anger into compassion’.
I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot recently, because my husband told me an idea he read in Likutey Moharan that explains that God often takes His cues from us. For example, if someone is working very hard on turning their own feelings of anger into compassion, God is much more likely to take that person’s prayers on the subject of turning the Divine anger into Divine compassion much more seriously.
I guess you could sum it up by saying God hates hypocrites. If we want Him to act nicely with us, and to overlook all our many millions of shortcomings and issues, He wants to see if we’re willing to act like that with other people.
Now, here’s the thing: it is SUCH hard work to regularly turn your anger into compassion (or at least, it is for me.)
Not a day goes by where I don’t read something, hear something, experience something that triggers off some massive rage fit. All this anger, and judgement and self-righteous disgust bubbles up – and dear reader, it always feels so just and proper at the time, especially when I’ve just discovered some particularly nauseating behaviour – and then I have to work like a dog to try and calm it all down again.
Depending on the circumstances, one session of hitbodedut, or personal prayer is often enough to dissolve the problem, or at least, my negative and angry reaction to it.
But sometimes, I find myself working on the same old problems, the same old difficult people, for days, weeks and even months at a time.
Just when I think I’ve finally put my angry feelings to bed about a particular person, they’ll go and do something even more annoying or disgustingly hypocritical, and then I find it all bubbles up again.
My yetzer starts whispering at me that it can’t be right to just let these people off the hook, and to keep judging them favourably, and can’t I see how horrible they are and what terrible things they’re doing and causing?
Literally, I can go round that mental track for a whole hour, noticing all the bad, disgusting stuff about a whole bunch of individuals (and believe me, it’s not even usually hidden) – and then trying to figure out how to judge it all favorably, and bring it all back to Hashem.
Let’s be clear here that BAD ACTIONS are always bad, and must be clearly recognised and responded to as such. But BAD PEOPLE is a whole different matter. Just because someone killed a granny in cold blood (BAD ACTION) doesn’t mean they themselves are completely evil and bad (BAD PERSON).
See, I told you it’s really, really hard to pull this stuff off.
But I’m still trying, not least because I know that there is no such thing as human objectivity. Every single one of us is adept at judging our fellow’s behaviour in very stark, harsh terms, while making a whole pile of good excuses for ourselves about how we just HAD to kill that Granny, because really she was the secret head of Hamas, or something.
To put it simply: I want God to tie Himself in knots to judge me favourably, and to turn His anger against me to compassion, so I have to practice what I preach.
But it’s so hard, and sometimes I get despairing and give up.
To keep me going, God has taken to sending me more, and more profound insights into human behaviour, so that I can really start to understand a little more why people do the things they do.
For example, I recently really got, for the first time ever, that certain people are so fundamentally obsessed with self-preservation, that it literally blinds them to any other consideration.
Their yetzer tells them that ‘X needs to happen at all costs, in order for you to feel good and happy and safe’, and then off they go, dead set at making ‘X’ happen regardless of who they have to squash or crush in the process.
Now, I’m not excusing the BAD ACTIONS, but I’m starting to understand that BAD PEOPLE are incredibly messed up, vulnerable and generally pathetic human beings. Once I got that, it got much easier for me to switch out of anger and into compassion mode.
At least, sometimes.