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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Mishpatim II

Never Answer In Anger

You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. (SHEMOS 22:21)

Reuven and Shimon were walking together when Moshe, with great chutzpah, began insulting them. Reuven pretended that he heard nothing, but Shimon replied to Moshe with even worse insults.

Once Moshe saw that there was no response from Reuven, he turned all his wrath upon Shimon, and continued to insult him. In the end Reuven and Shimon left Moshe and continued on their way.

Shimon turned to Reuven and asked in wonder, "How could you have kept quiet when he was so terribly insulting? Why didn't you give him a piece of your mind like I did?"

"Let me explain my actions with the following parable, " answered Reuven.

"Two merchants who each had wagons full of merchandise were on their way to the market to sell their wares. They had to cross a bridge, and one merchant's wagon slipped on the bridge and all of his merchandise fell into the water and was entirely ruined. So he went home empty-handed.

"The other merchant passed the bridge safely, but further along the road encountered heavy mud, and he had to pull and push with all his strength to get through the mud. This took him so long that by the time he got to the market he was completely exhausted, and there was hardly anyone left willing to buy his wares.

"With no other choice, he took his loaded wagon to a local hotel, in order to rest overnight, thinking that he would try his luck again the next day. But during the night robbers stole his merchandise together with his horse and wagon. Thus he, too, lost everything.

"Now let's consider who was worse off. I would think the one who crossed the bridge, since not only did he lose everything, but he went through so much additional suffering. The other one also lost his merchandise, but was saved from all the extra misery.

"We can apply this to our case," concluded Reuven, "I at least got rid of that man quickly. But you had to get your mouth dirty like he did, and you also had to receive even more insults. That is what our Sages say: 'You can avoid a hundred bad things if you keep quiet. (K'TZES HA-SHEMESH Bl-GVURASO, p. 237)

Answering in anger only causes a person additional vexation as we see illustrated in the above story. This lesson clearly applies to a person who is married. In marriage one must never answer in anger in order to protect the union from unnecessary strife.

"You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. " 1Rabbi Yossi says, "Why does G-d love widows and orphans? The reason is that they depend only on Him, as it is written, "Father of orphans, and the Judge of widows."2 Therefore anyone who steals from them is as if he steals from G-d, since He is their Father in Heaven, and He will become angry at the offender as it is written, "And I shall become angry, and I shall kill you."3 (MIDRASH RABBAH MISHPATIM ch 30 par. 8)

The midrash is asking a pertinent question, yet does not seem to give a complete answer. What do the widows' and orphans' feelings of dependence have to do with G-d's special love for them? How do we see that widows and orphans depend more on G-d than other people do? And why is G-d more angry at one who steals from a widow or an orphan?

When the midrash tells us that G-d loves widows and orphans because they depend on Him, it is revealing an important lesson. The more a person depends on and trusts in G-d, the more he is beloved by Him. G-d's love for us is determined by how close we feel to Him. Thus the more we love G-d, the more He loves us.

The widow and the orphan naturally turn to G-d for help. They do not have a husband or a father to protect them but have only the Creator to rely on. Typically their reliance is much greater than that of someone who has somebody else to protect them.

"Therefore anyone who steals from them is as if he steals from G-d, since He is their Father in Heaven." The vengeance of G-d is especially strong against someone who steals directly from Him, just as a king would be much angrier at someone who stole directly from his own palace than at someone who broke the same law, but stole from someone else. Stealing from the king's palace shows utter contempt for the king.

Similarly, taking advantage of an orphan or a widow shows utter contempt for G-d, since He has proclaimed that He personally will look after those of His children who are weak and unprotected. G-d's vengeance will certainly be turned against such a shameless person.

Our Spouses Turn to G-d For Protection

Since G-d loves and protects those who depend on Him, we must be careful not to hurt our spouses in any way, since in their pain they might turn to G-d for protection. Then His wrath would be turned against the one who afflicted them.

Never raise your voice to your spouse. Raising one's voice is an unmistakable indicator that anger is building up inside, and that anger might induce tremendous pain and fear in your spouse. King Shlomo says in Mishli, "A soft reply turns away wrath." 4 When you respond to anger with a calm reply, you are helping to put out a fire which could easily blaze out of control. It takes the heat out of an argument when there is no reply, as we see from Moshe's reaction to Reuven's silence in our opening story. Also the calm voice of an opponent who refuses to be provoked pacifies the one who is angry.

A spouse is similar in a sense to a widow, since just as the widow has no one to depend on or to protect her, so too when the couple is fighting, each partner is alone. Where there are parents around, it is not advisable to let them get involved in the argument. They will probably take the side of their own child, and thus cause the argument to become more complicated than it would have been if it had remained a disagreement between the husband and wife alone.

The hurt that a spouse feels when anger and insults go unchecked is very great. It is merely unpleasant to hear an insult from a friend or a stranger, but it is a stinging, deep, and serious hurt to hear an insult from someone you love so dearly.

Therefore, it is crucial that when something bothers you, to talk it over with your spouse openly while being careful about how your present your grievance, so as to avoid further aggravating the situation. In this way a solution can usually be reached. If you keep bad feelings inside you for too long, they might become deeply ingrained and will be much harder to mend. Settling matters between spouses is sometimes similar to business, where everyone has to give in a little to make a deal. So too, when each spouse is prepared to compromise a little, a solution can usually be reached.

The important thing to remember is that we are not allowed to hurt one another. Never say anything which will generate feelings of hurt in your spouse. Even if you think that you have good reason to be angry, be careful when you voice that anger, and try to express your grievance in a diplomatic and thoughtful manner. The Torah says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 5 dust as you do not want to be hurt by unkind words, be careful not to say unkind words to your spouse.

With patience and love almost any problem can be solved, and this is how a marriage is nurtured.

1. Shemos 22:21
2. Tehillim 68:6
3. Shemos 23:23
4. Mishlei 15:1
5. Vayikra 19:18

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