I get road rage. I have been known to use my horn excessively and even yell at other drivers when I do not approve of their driving skills.
This behavior is not something that I am proud of, rather it is something that I am trying very hard to work on and work out of myself. There are, however, certain places that trigger this negative side of me to appear more often than I would like to admit- most namely the tunnel road from my home in Efrat to Jerusalem. For years I tried to stay away from that road, driving 10 more minutes out of my way through backroads and an Arab village just to avoid merging to get into the tunnel. But sometimes, alas, this is just not feasible.
Now, granted, this road is one of the hardest ones in the world on which NOT to have road rage. There are no rules really- no clearly painted lines on the road and no guidelines posted on the etiquette of merging. In all of the mess that is the tunnel road, however, the part that never fails to ignite my ugly red rage is the infamous and irritating rarely-used-but-also-never-securely-closed “3rd lane.” This opening tempts otherwise very lovely people (I’m sure) to cut everyone off by going down that lane and merging at the checkpoint.
I have a long history of battling against this particular bad midda. I lived in Manhattan for 5 years after all and, in Manhattan, driving is all about survival of the fittest. But I’ve tried to delve deeper into this side of myself in order to try to figure out why getting “cut-off” impacts me this way. What does it trigger in me? Why do I react with such vehemence?
The Gemara, in Maseches Shabbos (105a), relates anger to avodah zara (serving foreign gods) and the Rambam says that “the life of an angry person is no life.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De’os 2:3) We understand that getting angry over something that happens to us is, in some way, like saying that Hashem is not in charge of the world, chas v’shalom. If everything comes from Hashem, then everything is meant to be. Therefore, my anger is coming from a place of lack of connection to this knowledge. I am literally cutting myself off from the reality that Hashem is creating this situation and putting me into it in order to cause me to grow from it.
The Sefer HaChinuch tells us that anger comes from jealousy and leads to fear. Getting angry at someone for cutting me off in traffic stems from a feeling that that person is taking something that belongs to me. It causes me to project onto them that they feel like they are more important than me- even, in some way, negating my existence. The commentaries say that this is, in fact, one of the ideas behind Korach’s rebellion in this week’s parsha- that Korach saw all of the jobs that were being given out and, not yet having received one, feared that there would be no job left for him, no place left for him, that someone else had taken “his place.”
Throughout Torah, the worst sins are punishable by kares- which literally means being cut off- from Hashem, from the souls of the Jewish people, from life. There are many halachic ramifications of these types of sins and of the idea of kares. The Alter Rebbe, in Chapter 5 of Iggeres HaTeshuva, uses the analogy of a rope with 613 strands. The rope is the means through which the constantly flowing life force from Hashem is drawn down into our souls. Every time we transgress, part of the rope is cut. When we do teshuva, realizing we were wrong and wanting to make up for it, these strands are rebuilt in an even tighter and closer connection.
Kares, however, is a different case. Kares would mean a severing of the entire rope, G-d forbid. Even then, though, the Alter Rebbe points out that the innermost aspect of the soul is literally a piece of G-d, and can never be fully cut off. The connection and energy flowing into that person from Hashem is diminished, though, until that person does an even greater form of teshuva- a return to Hashem out of love.
On a smaller scale, reacting with anger at being “cut-off” in traffic causes me, in some way, to cut myself off from the flow of energy and life force that Hashem is sending my way. I am doing it to myself. My anger is blocking that life force from reaching me and allowing fear an open pass to my soul. I am triggering a spiral of jealousy and fear that pushes away my emunah and fans the flames of self-doubt.
I pray that dissecting this behavior chain will enable me to recognize it and stop it in its tracks. That understanding will lead to healing.
I know that Hashem loves me. I know that everything He puts in my path is an opportunity to push myself to grow. In that knowledge I pray to have the strength to actually do the growing. In that place of love and connection there is no such thing as someone taking “my” place. We all have a place in Hashem’s world.
I bless us all to remember that life is a journey, and that on this journey we will fall and mess up. I bless us to want to get back up, to want to grow, and to know that in digging deep and looking for a relationship with Hashem, we rebuild our ropes tighter and stronger than before.