Log in

The two faces of anger



By Rick Sherwin

Many years ago, during a Shabbat service, I addressed a congregation on the danger (d-anger) of anger, how personal anger has the capacity to blind one to the world of possibilities, to sit behind a closed door of darkness so that the vision cannot come to light.

My friend, Alan Richelson, spoke to me after the service and offered a very thought-provoking response to my message: “Not all anger is bad.” While my comments were focused on personal life, his observation made me think about the anger we see in the world. Today, the internet and news sources seem to be exploding with anger, some of it healthy!

There is anger and there is anger.

There is destructive anger of those shallow individuals who are perpetually condescending and judgmental of those who have a different skin color, speak a different language, come from an impoverished country, express personal love in a different way, vote for the “wrong” party, and worship God the wrong way (or does not worship God at all). This is the dangerous anger that concludes, “If you are not like me, then I need not listen to you or those who speak out on your behalf.”

There is righteous anger that speaks out against the injustice that challenges the dignity of an individual, the injustice that challenges the integrity of a community, the racism that rips the human family apart. Constructive anger speaks out in the name of conscience, even when no one seems to listen, even when no one cares.

The prophets were angry people: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and Zachariah. Insensitivity made them an angry, lack of resolve made them angry, lack of vision made them angry, lack of action made them angry. In Jewish Tradition, a prophet is not one who foretells the future, but rather one who comforts the wounded identifies what is wrong, speaks out with the voice of conscience, articulates a course to spiritual healing and moral health, and then actively leads the way to a brighter tomorrow.

In the 1960s, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., drawing on this Jewish definition, called each other a prophet. Each identified what is wrong, spoke out in the name of conscience, presented a vision of what should be, then walked forward together toward a world in which we – all together – find a way to feed the hunger, to shelter the homeless, to heal the sick. Silence was not, is not, and shall never be an option in the face of baseless hatred and inhumanity.

Elie Wiesel, the author laureate of the Holocaust, drew from his personal experience, witnessing the Nazi murder of not only Jews, but also gypsies, blacks, homosexuals, and anyone who dared to reflect the voice of diversity. With prophetic resolve, Wiesel spoke out as a moral compass for humanity, and he lived as he taught: “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.”

In the Book of Numbers, Moses challenges his followers (Numbers 11.29): Would that all God’s children were prophets, and that the Divine Spirit would rest upon them!

As we celebrate the birthdays of Abraham Joshua Heschel (January 11) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15), we are inspired to raise angry voices in the face of bigotry and hatred, against all forms of misogyny and xenophobia. We respond to Dr. Heschel and Dr. King by calling upon both our individual consciences and our collective conscience to speak out.

May anger lead to action.

May action lead to helping.

May helping lead to healing.

May healing lead to harmony.

May harmony lead to hope for tomorrow.


Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Rick Sherwin