This edition of Working Jew has been sent from a reader in Israel. We thank him for his contribution.

Job and role clarity are fundamental to the functioning of any organisation. Those who have studied business psychology theory will be familiar with the idea that managers can motivate individuals in their team by providing as much role clarity as possible[1]. Of course, the opposite is also true: a lack of role clarity can become a source of tension, when you are relying on another person to do their job so that you can perform yours. L’Moshel (for example) during an extremely busy week at work, I sent a colleague a series of emails imploring him to finish his job so that I could carry on with mine. I received the following;

“Dear …, go into the storage cupboard, in there you’ll find my draw, open it. Inside you’ll find a box, on the box it says ‘chill pill,’ take one out the pack, eat it and talk to me later….”

No, I didn’t laugh like you may have just done. I did quite the opposite.

What are we to do when a situation like this arises? What is expected of us? It can’t be that outside the walls of the home, beis hamidrash or synagogue we are patur (exempt) from working on ourselves, can it? Being that for sure this is a chance to develop ourselves, what are the options:

  1. Blast them – Extremely tempting.
  2. Reply by telling them ‘that was unnecessary’– Less tempting, but definitely has some passive aggressive hanor (feeling of pleasure).
  3. Wait! – Not very tempting at all.

What’s the Torah’s approach?

Rebuke – The Rambam brings in Hilchos Dayos (6:6-9) that if one sins against you (i.e. hurts you) you have the right to rebuke them. The sefora (logic) being that it will generate shalom (peace) between the two of you afterwards. Obviously, there is a way to go about giving the rebuke, i.e. you shouldn’t attack the person, but rather calmly approach him at another time, once you are calm[2]. This is a helpful proof for option 2, but one must take caution: rebuke can only be given if it will be accepted by the other party[3] – this is a vast seugya (topic) in its own right.

The gemara in Brachos (7b), when discussing what Hashem’s anger is, uses the less common word ‘ritcha’ for anger. The same word can also mean boiling. The inference is that just as something boiling will eventually cool down, so too will anger. Furthermore, the gemara in Eruvin (13b) at the end of an interesting masia (story) explains that it was the quality of patience under provocation that was one of the factors that led the Sages to halachically rule according to Beis Hillel (over Beis Shammai). Between the two gemaras, we appear to have a good proof for option 3: just stop, do nothing and calm down.

OK, it’s a nice vort, but is that it? That’s working on ourselves? Just waiting? This seems more like damage control rather than growth. I present the following: yes, waiting is damage control, but the real growth comes when we are calm. Later that evening take a look back and assess the elements inside you that elicited the feelings of anger. For example, you may find the factors involved were:

  1. In reality, you don’t like the colleague in question and you realise now that the reason you keep clashing is because of your inability to be mivatul (give in to the other person), as opposed to his apparent misunderstanding of his job;
  2. Your colleague was completely wrong and you were defiantly in the right, and yes you were entitled to take the appropriate action. Nevertheless you must still ask yourself: What tone did you take? What medium did you use to present your request? (maybe it’s as simple as just going up to the guy next time instead of sending emails).

The point is to be cognitive about what causes our reactions. When we do this, then with Hashem’s help we have a chance to get some real depth and clarity about ourselves and play around with how to change our core habits[4].


The Working Jew.


[1] Woods & West (2010); Business Psychology

[2] This right/obligation will not relate to non-Jews. However it may still provide an insight for personal relationships in general. Consult a Rabbi in regards to the halachic ramifications.

[3] The gemara in Erchin (16b) explains that in our generation people don’t know how to give or receive rebuke.

[4] A reiya (proof) to this is the Bal Shem Tov’s understanding of rebuke. If a person sees an aveyra or sees/hears something ugly then one should contemplate why Hashem made it that the person saw it, and meditate on what they can do in that area as a person to improve.