(The following is a teaching very much in line with the essential purpose of my blog: The attempt, the effort, to grow spiritually — especially as evidenced by greater levels of personal peace — can always be found both in the text of Torah and in subsequent commentaries and comments.)

“The [author of Sefer] Chareidim writes: ‘Noach [נח] found favor [חן/chein] in Hashem’s eyes’ [1] because he was always noach [נח/peaceful and serene]. Noach is mentioned three times [in the first passuk of the parshah] because when one is relaxed and calm, his serenity will be seen by:
(1) the way he speaks
(2) the way he walks and
(3) in the way he does things…
A tranquil spirit comes from the side of holiness, while nervousness and anger comes from the side of impurity…’ [2]

The Torah doesn’t tell us how Noach acquired chein. His name therefore holds the answer. [3] [‘Noach;’ spelled nun-chet/נ–ח], which literally means ‘tranquility’, also spells [‘chein’; ‘favor;’ spelled chet-nun/ח–ן]. Noach acquired ‘chein‘ because he was serene in all his ways, calm and kind to everyone, and he never became angry. He was never uptight and nervous. He was always at peace with himself and with others. This is the trait which gave him chein in the eyes of Hashem.

The Gemara [4] says, ‘God loves three [types of] people:
(1) one who
doesn’t become angry (mi sh’eino koeis)
(2) one who doesn’t become intoxicated (mi sh’eino mishtaker)
(3)
one who doesn’t insist on what’s due him/her (mi sh’eino m’amid atzmo al midotav).’ [5]

The first item on this list is someone who doesn’t become angry. This is as the Chareidim said: Someone who is [noach] (tranquil) has [chein] before Hashem.

There are many degrees to anger. Sometimes, a person appears to be totally calm, but there is a small element of anger buried deep in his heart. He thinks that he is just slightly uptight, perhaps a drop nervous, but if he will take an honest look at himself, he will see that he has a drop of anger in his heart. The goal is to acquire perfect serenity, and then he will have chein before Hashem…

…How can one overcome anger? By saying [in our hearts] that the way things are, it is gam zugood that way [גם זו לטובה/”Gam zu l’tovah“]. Perhaps someone said something that insults you, perhaps someone did something that upsets you, but you accept life as it comes…

…a person must train him/herself to be satisfied with…life. It may not be exactly as [we] originally planned things to be, it may be uncomfortable, but we must accept the life we have because this is the reality that Hashem gave us [and is giving us for the Good]…although there are difficulties in life, in reality great things are being built for us. Hashem is leading us in the very best way…

…Therefore, let us…make shalom our primary objective, a goal that goes beyond logic and common sense [and beyond the superficial levels of the mind]. We might have a thousand reasons to be angry with someone, to not speak with someone, etc., but nonetheless we are friendly to them, because the goal of chein is our weak spot, that goes beyond all logic…

…When one is involved in a machlokes [conflict], he/she generally loses his/her composure and peace of mind. It is hard to remain calm, when one is in a fight. Therefore, for the sake of tranquility and chein alone, it is wise to avoid disputes and to make shalom a primary objective.

By avoiding machlokes, you will…have chein before Hashem…” [6]

I’d add to this that overcoming anger by applying the thought “Gam zu l’tovah” works on different levels.

Underneath anger there’s always a thought like: “This is wrong. This isn’t fair. I don’t want this.” That thought has to be changed.

Rabbi Biderman states that “a person must train him/herself to be satisfied with…life.”

On a beginning level, simply invoking “Gam zu…” distracts our attention from the accusatory thoughts. They don’t go away, really, but they get “covered over,” as it were, by a more positive thought. This will give us some immediate calmness — but one that’s superficial and certainly not permanent.

For a deeper solution, we have to actually change the thoughts themselves. This is a far more gradual process.

How do we “train ourselves” as Rabbi Biderman suggests?

Psychotherapy teaches us to recognize and express the angry content — especially in the therapy-session. Simply learning to recognize the thought can take time. I’ve had clients who denied that they were “angry,” describing themselves as being only “tense,” or “annoyed,” or “irritated,” etc.

Some didn’t even recognize that they were disturbed or upset at all. They had to learn to distinguish between calm states and more upset ones.

Even if we can at least recognize that we’re angry, we have to learn to identify and express the underlying thoughts.

Once we can recognize that we’re upset and express the underlying thoughts, we can question why we’re reacting the way we do. It might have to do with some early-childhood association. It could also be connected with some otherwise unrelated stress in our lives that we’re less able to express comfortably (e.g. anger at a boss) and that we’re redirecting (misdirecting, really) to a person or situation where we can do so more easily (although less appropriately) — e.g. at home.

Then, having recognized our anger and it’s true source, we can discuss how else we might react. We can look at the reaction we had had seemingly spontaneously, discuss and decide what would be a more desirable reaction, and plan how to implement it in the future. We might even practice (e.g. by visualizing or acting out a scenario) to make it easier to employ the preferred reaction in future situations. Doing this, we bring choice to our reactions, without suppressing or denying the feelings themselves.

Here, Torah — and religion in general — tells us that we can even entirely reframe how we saw the incident in the first place. Before, we brought in the thought “Gam zu l’tovah” without having resolved our angry feelings. Here, we can bring it in after we’ve done so. We can consider the perspective: God is doing everything for the Good. I can react to even an unpleasant situation as “good” – even if that “good” isn’t immediately apparent. We might first do this by trying to identify positive things in the situation, but the ultimate goal is to accept it as “good” without having to “see” the good itself at all. We “know” the good in our hearts, disregarding the information of the senses entirely. 

I’ve often experienced that the “good” I find in a situation is in what it forces me to do or learn in order to accomodate myself to it! I grow in my ability to adjust. I also realize again and again that I have an inner joy that’s quite independent of outer circumstances.

The author of the Sefer Chareidim, Rabbi Biderman and many others encourage us that we can neutralize our anger this way.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy or fast. It’s a gradual process that takes time — different time, depending on who we are and what our situation is.

Torah gives us glimpses of the fullest context in which our actions and our lives take place.

Psychotherapy gives us methods for learning new ways to react. It can be a tool to help us accomplish the goal of Torah; to “find favor in God’s eyes” (while accepting that Divine Love could never be contingent on our own perfection).

Torah in its fullest sense includes the glimpses and the methods, too.

Even doing the first steps in the process earns for us chein, favor, in God’s eyes.

____________________________________________________

[1] Bereishith/Gen. 10:8

[2] Azikri, Rabbi Eliezer; Sefer Chareidim 9:42

[3] A name reflects the essence of a person even when the letters/consonants are reversed, because the sound-value remains the same. Thus, the author can say: “Noach was always ‘noach‘ — i.e.  Noah was always tranquil.” It’s also true that in Hebrew, nouns are derived from verbs. Thus, a name can connote something that one does or is doing. We might then say that Noach was noach because he was always creating peace — especially in his own mind — by his thoughts, words and acts. One might even say “choosing peace” instead of “creating” it. He chose thoughts, words and actions that retained his peace and the peace of all and everything around him.

[4] Pesachim 113b

[5] The Hebrew doesn’t imply simply one who doesn’t take revenge; it means one who doesn’t insist on what’s due him/her, even when he/she is in the right. Such a person will always be involved in conflicts with those who wrong him/her. The extreme degree of this is one who seeks revenge.

[6] received via email:
Torah Wellsprings — Noach 5777 A4.pdf
from:
Collected Thoughts of  Rabbi Elimelech Biderman, Shlita;
Compiled by Rabbi Boruch Twersky
with permission of MACHON BE’ER HAEMUNAH