June 19, 2024
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It was one of those moments that are priceless as a parent. When one of our children was about 7 years old, he woke up one morning in a very cranky mood. Everything was an issue and a kvetch, to the point that my wife commented to me that this child really woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Apparently, the child had overheard our conversation and came over to my wife about 10 minutes later with an interesting and adorable question. He wanted to know that if he goes back into bed, could my wife show him which side to get off the bed so he would wake up on the right side? There are times when we respond to various stimuli and stresses in our life by being moody, thereby impacting those around us in a negative and uneasy way. Often, our mood causes an escalation with a spouse or family member that can domino into a more intense and prolonged conflict. We become so sensitive to being confronted regarding our negative behavior that we lash out in response, instead of humbly realizing that our mood took its toll on those around us who were innocent bystanders. While we are all human and are entitled to have our difficult moments and moods, we have to remember that there may be people around us who may become victims of our negativity or criticism in those difficult moments.

The most critical element of this experience is our ability to reflect on our behavior as a learning moment for future challenging times. Over the last number of years, the use of video replay has become mainstream in the professional sports world. Umpires and referees are asked and tasked with reviewing their judgment personally or having their rulings reviewed for them by others. I often wonder how these individuals feel when their initial ruling is overruled by video replay. How could they insist that they were correct when the evidence is indisputable? What a humbling moment it must be when the referee or umpire is proven wrong in front of thousands of people. Without question, at the conclusion of a game, the referee or umpire reviews the video himself and relives what he was thinking and seeing when watching for a second time. The result of constant review is the ability to slow down what one experiences in real time.

The same is true of conflict within relationships. There is what I often call a fork in the road that we are able to review. We have the ability to replay that which transpired in conflict and identify the fork that was present that resulted in escalation. For example, if I am able to understand that because of my mood I responded to an innocent inquiry into my day by snapping back at a spouse or a child, I will be able to repair the damage done to the relationship by humbly explaining where I took the wrong turn at the fork in the road. Instead of blaming others for their response to me, by taking personal responsibility, I make it much easier for those engaged with me to be forgiving of my actions. As a result, I may learn to slow down my reactions and emotions when feeling in a certain mood, while those around me who sense that I am not acting myself may be more understanding of the space that I may need to cool off at that moment.

After the meraglim gave their detailed report about the Land of Israel, Kalev and Yehoshua rose up and disputed the report. The Torah then describes that the people reacted with anger toward Kalev and Yehoshua; they considered stoning them. Rav Simcha Raz explains that we can derive a lesson from this story about two different types of personalities we may encounter. There are individuals whose personalities allow them to be rational and to admit they may be wrong in a given circumstance. These people can carry on a conversation in a healthy way, defending the merits of their argument while acquiescing that they may be wrong. There are other people who feel defenseless when they perceive that they are wrong and therefore respond with deep emotion, often screaming and yelling and even at times becoming physically violent when their arguments are proven to be incorrect. It was these personalities who took charge of the Bnei Yisrael who rose in response to the positive report of Kalev and Yehoshua. It was these individuals whose reaction sealed the tragic fate of that generation. We must be careful in our own dealings to understand why and how we respond to others the way we do. We must strive to understand ourselves better and recognize that there are times when we may need to disengage from others so we can calm ourselves from the results of the stresses we face, and therefore do not end up regretting our interactions.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

 Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, New Jersey, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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