The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells of Dina’s abduction and defilement by Shekhem, and describes her brothers’ reaction upon hearing of the tragedy: “Va-yit’atzevu ha-anashim va-yichar lahem me’od” – “The men were distressed, and they were very incensed.”
Rabbenu Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, in his Torah commentary, cites his grandfather, Rabbenu Maimon, as noting the distinction between the two verbs in this phrase – “va-yit’atzevu” and “va-yichar.” The first implies sorrow and distress, whereas the second denotes rage and a desire for revenge. “Va-yit’atzevu” means that Yaakov’s sons were pained by the misfortune that befell their sister, whereas “va-yichar” means that they felt inclined to exact revenge from the perpetrator and his abettors.
Rabbenu Avraham’s emphasis on this distinction is perhaps intended to underscore the two separate stages of the brothers’ emotional reaction to the news of their sister’s abduction: first sorrow, and then anger. By noting the difference between these two emotions, Rabbenu Avraham reminds us that they need not coexist; it is possible to feel sorrow without feeling angry.
Too often, anger flows directly from sorrow. In our frantic effort to relieve ourselves of the emotional pain of sorrow, we become angry and seek to hit back at the person who caused us the pain. In the case of Yaakov’s sons reacting to their sister’s defilement, the feelings of vengeance are understandable and perhaps even valid. However, this case marks the exception, rather than the rule. Far more often than not, the response of “va-yichar” is inappropriate. Even when we experience “va-yit’atzevu,” when we feel aggravated, despondent or distressed, we should hesitate before allowing ourselves to reach “va-yichar.” We are capable, and usually expected, to live with the discomfort of sorrow without resorting to anger. Seldom is revenge the solution to emotional pain. We must train ourselves to deal with life’s frustrations and challenges without anger, recognizing our ability to handle difficult feelings without rage and hostility.