44 - Situations - Don't Appease Your Friend At The Time Of His Anger

It offers counsel on how to conduct oneself under difficult circumstances. In the Rambam's words, the mishna speaks of “moral matters regarding proper human relations.”




Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Greet or contact a family member or neighbor who you would otherwise not reach out to.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute. 


Lesson #44


Don't Appease Your Friend At The Time Of His Anger

אל תרצה את חברך בשעת כעסו

Al T'ratzeh Es Chavericha Bish'as Ka'a'so

Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf Gimmel

Story(based on a true story)

Like I did on most spring afternoons, I was standing talking to Chava and Shifra in Chava’s driveway while we watched the kids bike and scooter up and down the sidewalk.  It was our time to catch up, and Chava was venting about one of her sons’ teachers.

“I don’t get it,” she whispered, as the child in question biked by.  “Why would a teacher treat a child like this?  Naftali came home today crying again because he says his Morah hates him.  She called him up in front of the whole class and made him apologize to the class for being rude and disturbing them while they took their math test.  Just because he couldn’t stop tapping his feet under his desk.  OK, it’s annoying, but to have to make a public statement?”

We commiserated with her; it didn’t sound like the right consequence.  Chava went on.

“Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised.  She just doesn’t seem to get boys at all.  She takes away recess as a punishment for being too hyper.  And then she punishes them again when they’re more hyper later on.  Hello?!  You took away their time to run around.  That’s what you get.”

Clearly, Chava was upset, so even as I told myself that this was just her side of the story that was filtered down to her through a fourth grade boy and therefore might not be 100% accurate, I listened because she needed to vent.  Maybe I could help.

But when she began talking in full voice about how the kid who complained about the foot-tapping was the son of one of the school’s biggest donors so of course the school had to back him and not her son, I felt the need to speak up and say something to her.  I felt that she had gone a bit too far and she might regret what she had said later.

“Chava,” I began as gently as possible, “you don’t know that, and your kids might start spreading what they hear from you.  I know you’re angry, but you need to calm down.  You’ll get less done with the school when you’re so upset.  How can we reframe this?”

I felt Shifra give me a little shove, and turned to look at her.  “Not now,” she mouthed.

Meanwhile, Chava gave me a look, and said, “Maybe the kids should know how the world works when it comes to money.  And we can’t all be calm perfect people when our children are crying."  Then she moved away to help one of her kids turn around his tricycle.

“She’s not ready to not be angry yet,” Shifra said to me.  “You’re right, she was saying things that didn’t need to be heard.  But maybe we could figure out how to redirect her a little on the worst parts and just listen to the others and say, “That sounds hard."  Or we could leave if we needed to.  It’s not like she was taking it out on anyone.  You know Chava--in general she’s a reasonable person.  She’ll eventually calm down, and then she’ll bounce it off of us for added perspective.”

That was true.  I knew how much I hated it when my husband said to me, “You really need to calm down” when I was upset about something.  All I wanted was to be listened to.  I sometimes lashed out at him as Chava had to me, not meaning what I was saying.

I had hoped to help Chava after spending several weeks in a mussar shiur learning about reframing, emuna, being dan l'chaf z'chus and how anger poisons our judgment and our simchas ha’chayim.  Putting these ideas into practice was doing wonders for my mood and the way I tackled problems, so they were foremost in my mind.  But I saw now that right at this moment, it was the wrong time.  I should have just said, “I hear you” and moved on.

Pirkay Avos:

"רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר:  ××œ תרצה את חברך בשעת כעסו...." 

"Rabi Shimon ben Elazar omer:  Al t'ratzeh es chavericha bish'as ka'a'so..."

"Rabi Shimon ben Elazar says:  Do not appease your friend at the time of his anger"(Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf Gimmel).

This mishna lists good and useful actions that, if not performed at the proper moment, can have untoward consequences.  It offers counsel on how to conduct oneself under difficult circumstances.  In the Rambam’s words, the mishna speaks of “moral matters regarding proper human relations.”

Rabbainu Yosef elaborates on this dictum that an attempt to appease someone when he is upset is as counterproductive as putting out a fire with spoonfuls of water or adding oil to flames.  Midrash Shmuel adds that a person who attempts to do so is guilty of placing a stumbling block before the blind, because an angry person is likely to lash out at an ill-advised attempt to calm him.

In a cautionary tale of how attempting to soothe a person in his wrath may only enrage him further, we learn that after Yonason helped David escape Shaul HaMelech’s anger, Shaul rebuked his son.  When Yonason attempted to reason with his father, “Why should (David) die?  What has he done?", Shaul hurled his spear at him.

The Abarbanel offers that after the previous mishna, mishna chaf bais, spoke of the importance of an hour of repentance and good deeds in this world, the present mishna provides the complimentary perspective that not every hour is appropriate for every action, no matter how laudatory it may be.

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

How can trying to calm an angry person make things worse?

What is the best way to handle a discussion with someone who is angry?  What if they are angry at us?

What does it mean that "each action has its hour”?

Stretch of the Week:

Listen to someone who is upset when that is what they need most



Stretch Of The Week