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    Rage Therapy
    A man walks into a
    bar. He calmly orders
    a drink and proceeds
    to abruptly pick up
    his glass and hurl it at
    the shocked bartender.
    After a moment of uncomfortable silence,
    he begins apologizing profusely, pleading
    for forgiveness: “I am mortified; I suffer
    from uncontrollable rage, I am deeply
    ashamed of it, I don’t know what came over
    me, please forgive me for my embarrassing
    behavior.” The bartender graciously
    forgives him. However, this happens nightly
    for a week straight, each outburst followed
    by sincere regret. Finally, the bartender
    makes an ultimatum: “Either you undergo
    intense anger-management therapy or do
    not ever enter this bar again.” The man
    consented. A year later, he returns to the bar,
    a rehabilitated man. But lo and behold, he
    immediately takes his glass and heaves it at
    the bartender. “What are you doing?” the
    bartender thundered, “I thought you went to
    therapy!” “I did,” the man replied, “and
    now I am not embarrassed anymore.”
    Animal Laws
    This week’s parsha (Mishpatim) deals
    with the laws of damages caused by one’s
    animals. Say, for example, your
    domesticated bull suddenly and
    uncharacteristically gores and kills another
    bull. Perhaps your domesticated usually
    well-behaved dog goes berserk and
    suddenly attacks and bites another dog, or
    worse yet, an innocent stranger. What’s the
    law? The Torah tells us, for the first three
    altercations the owner of the bull pays for
    only half the damage. Since it is unusual for
    a bull to suddenly gore, the owner was not
    expected to take all precautionary measures
    to prevent this. He is not deemed completely
    responsible, and he splits the losses with the
    owner of the wounded animal. However,
    after three attacks, it is established that this
    bull is aggressive and has a destructive
    nature, and the owner is held fully
    responsible to guard his animal. He,
    therefore, pays for all the damage occurring
    as a result of his failure to guard his
    dangerous beast.
    Is “Repentance” Possible?
    How about re-orientation? Meaning, can a
    bull or any other animal resume their
    original status of innocence after damaging
    three times? Yes, says the Talmud. And this
    can be achieved in two ways: Either the
    owner rigorously disciplines his animal
    until its disposition is transformed, and it
    learns to behave. Or he can sell the animal

    or give it as a gift to someone else. With a
    new owner and new patterns and schedules,
    the Halacha assumes the animal will return
    to its natural inborn domestic nature and is
    considered nonviolent until proven
    The Psychological Dimension
    Every law of the Torah has a psychological
    and spiritual rendition, in addition to the
    concrete and physical interpretation. One of
    the primary functions of the Jewish mystical
    tradition — Kabbalah and Chassidism – is to
    explain the metaphysical meaning behind
    each law and Mitzvah of the Torah and the

    Talmud. How can we apply the above-
    mentioned set of laws to our own personal

    and spiritual lives?
    The Mystical Animal
    Each of us possesses an animal within; an
    earthy, mundane consciousness that seeks

    only self-preservation and self-
    enhancement. Survival and comfort are its

    sole consideration. In today’s neuroscientific
    vocabulary we would define it as the
    reptilian brain and mammalian brain,
    responsible for our survival and
    emotions. Judaism maintains that the
    “human-animal” is considered self-centered
    and animalistic, but not inherently bad or
    destructive. In sharp contrast to other
    traditions which claim man
    is inherently sinful, and therefore in need of
    salvation, Judaism does not see any part of
    our consciousness as innately evil. When
    one is born, the animal within is innocent
    and even cute. Its primary goal is merely to
    preserve its existence, gratify its natural
    desires, and enjoy a safe and comfortable
    life. However, if our animal consciousness
    is not educated, cultivated, and refined, this

    cute innocent animal can become a self-
    centered beast. The beast can turn into a

    monster, prone to destroy itself and others
    around it in its quest for self-enhancement
    and self-aggrandizement. Sometimes our
    animal can become addicted to various
    things to desperately fill a void it is

    experiencing or run from a wounded self-
    image. Many people’s animals do indeed

    become, at one point or another, damaging
    forces, causing pain to themselves and to
    Two Types of Animals
    Yet, there are two distinct types of
    “damaging human animals.” There is one
    whose moments of aggression are seen as
    unusual deviations; and one for whom these
    destructive patterns have become common
    behavior. In the first instance, the Torah tells
    us to be more understanding of the “owner”
    of the animal. Nobody is ever entitled to

    “gore” or “bite” another
    human being. But practically
    speaking, we need to
    remember that even the
    gentlest husband can lose
    himself and raise his voice in
    anger, and even the most
    loving woman may, in a
    moment of stress, make an
    obnoxious comment. It is
    painful and amends must be
    made, but it’s not the end of
    the world.
    We have our weak moments,
    when our inner lizard, rat, or
    Chimpanzee, take over our bodies and
    behaviors; we say or do hurtful words or
    deeds. Our rational, visionary, and Divine
    consciousness go “offline” for those
    moments, as our inner animal takes a stab at
    a spouse, child, co-worker, or stranger. It is
    hurtful, but we can make amends. As long
    as the offender acknowledges his or her
    wrongdoing and accepts accountability,
    understanding and forgiveness may follow.
    To be human is to err. Our goal is not
    perfection, but accountability. Life will
    sometimes throw you a curveball, and in the
    shock that follows you may lose yourself
    and begin to “gore.” As long as you are
    accountable for your actions and words,
    your negative behavior is considered an
    anomaly, an aberration from your natural
    self. But if the incidents of abuse and
    destruction persist — if a husband
    continuously shouts at his wife or children;
    if a person in a position of leadership
    shatters the lives of the people he is
    responsible for; if a wife only derides and
    ridicules her husband; if one cannot control
    their food, alcohol, or drug addiction — their
    behavior cannot be condoned. We are
    dealing with an animal whose
    selfish, destructive, and unhealthy
    inclinations have become the norm. Making
    mistakes is part of life. But if these mistakes
    are repeated continuously and become
    regular habits without being controlled and
    stopped, they are dangerous. They have
    become a lifestyle, a routine, sometimes an
    addiction. The owner of this “animal”
    cannot excuse himself or herself by saying,
    “I did not realize, I did not know.” He or she
    must “seize the bull by its horns” (pun
    intended) and accept full accountability.
    But how does such an animal return to its
    original, innocent status? How can one
    rehabilitate oneself? How does one regain
    the trust of the people he/she has hurt so
    Two Paths to Recovery
    There are two roads available: The first is

    the rigorous process of self-refinement, in
    which your animal learns to confront and
    challenge its deepest fears and urges, and it
    painstakingly de-beasts its abusive
    character. Yet, even before you manage to
    work through all of the dark chambers of
    your wild animal, the teachings of Judaism
    present another alternative: Change the
    jurisdiction of th
    e animal. Take your animal and submit it
    to the higher power, to the property of G-d.
    Even before complete therapy, surrender to
    the higher reality. Take your rage, your
    addictions, your depression, your fear, your
    shame, and submit them to G-d. The Torah
    teaches that the universe is created anew at
    every single moment. You, I, and all
    of existence, are being re-created right here
    and right now. In a G-d centered
    consciousness, life happens in the here and
    now. Transferring to His ownership means
    that at this moment you can put your past
    demons to rest and start anew. You are as
    fresh as a newborn. Talk to your animal and
    reflect together on the following truth: Yes,
    I know that you have a complicated past and
    I am not denying that; I know you believe
    that you are prone and addicted to all types
    of behavior. But right now, my dear animal,
    let us look and live in the present. You and I
    were just created anew, with a clean slate.
    So let us finally begin to live. For real. It is
    sometimes scary to throw away the baggage
    of our past; at times familiar misery seems
    more comfortable than unfamiliar change.
    But we need to take full responsibility for
    our future. We must muster our courage and
    view ourselves from the G-d’s perspective,
    from His ownership. In His world,
    everything is recreated each moment. We
    can liberate ourselves from our past and
    defy ominous predictions of our future, and
    we can do it now. I must still work on
    healing internally, but in a very real way, I
    can gain control over my inner reptilian and
    mammalian brain. If you are serious and
    compassionate, your animal will listen —
    and respond.