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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Additional Lessons

At the Shabbat Table

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A teacher who wrote a letter to his student out of anger. The letter got sent accidentally...
6
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Rabbi Chaim could take just about anything. As an eighth grade teacher, he had to. It was part of the job description. Moshe Blum, however, was an exception to the rule. While every child is endowed with a multitude of positive qualities, Moshe’s were generally overshadowed by… other things. The ice cream he had thrown out the window in the middle of class the other day, causing panic as it landed on the open window of the classroom beneath him, was just one example. The time he loaded the radiator with glitter, which was soon showered on the hapless teacher, as he tried to turn on the heat, was another. He was better known, though, for his ability to disrupt any lesson with comments that couldn’t even be called ‘tangential,’ but which had the effect of causing the entire class to burst out laughing, and making the teacher long fervently to be sitting in a quiet spot at a deserted beach.
Rabbi Chaim had tried all of his usual educational tricks. He tried focusing on the wonderful opportunity that Moshe was giving his teacher to acquire the trait of patience. He bit his lips and sat on his hands and focused intensely on the pictures of great rabbis hanging on the back wall of the classroom. Today. Well, today was different. Moshe had crossed a line. As soon as the bell rang, Rabbi Chaim raced out of the classroom. He threw open his office door, sank into his chair, and grabbed a blank piece of paper.
"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Blum,
I’m writing to you regarding your son Moshe."
Rabbi Chaim went on to detail Moshe’s poor behaviors, his loud mouth, and the unlikeliness of Moshe continuing to the next grade, if he were to continue at this rate. Rabbi Chaim’s blood pressure slowly steadied. He signed his name, folded the paper into thirds, and slid it into an envelope, marked "to the parents of Moshe Blum."
Rabbi Chaim then took the envelope and… left it on his desk! In fact, it was an old trick, one rumored to have been used by no less than Abraham Lincoln. Writing a scathing letter, and not mailing it, was a method that Rabbi Chaim had used on occasion, over the years, with exceptionally challenging children.
Rabbi Chaim looked at his watch. It was late! He ran out of his office, in the direction of his car, the afternoon’s events all but forgotten. In fact, nothing remained of his controlled outburst except for… the letter on his desk.
Bright and early the next morning, Rabbi Chaim sat down at his desk. He had left in a hurry the day before. It was coming back to him. The letter about Moshe Blum. Come to think of it, where was that letter? Rabbi Chaim felt a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. As calmly as he could manage, he walked over to the school secretary’s desk.
"Uh, you didn’t happen to see a letter on my desk, written to Moshe Blum’s parents, did you?" Rabbi Chaim’s voice quivered.
"Sure! I already stamped it and addressed it. In fact, the mailman came by just a few minutes ago." The secretary glanced at Rabbi Chaim, and saw that the news of her alacrity and office management skills was not having the intended affect.
"You mean you… mailed it!?" Rabbi Chaim felt like he was about to faint. He staggered over to the water cooler, filled up a cup, and, as discretely as he could, sank into a chair. He managed to pull himself together in time to head to his next class.
A few days later, as Rabbi Chaim passed by the secretary’s desk, she called out "Uh, Rabbi Chaim, that letter that I mailed for you came back. It seems the address was wrong. Did you want me to try to send it again?"
"What, you have the letter? It didn’t get to Moshe’s parents?" Rabbi Chaim could hardly believe that the potentially explosive situation had been reversed. "No, it’s not necessary to mail it again. I’ll take care of it. Thank you." Rabbi Chaim grabbed the postmarked letter off the secretary’s desk, and hurried in the direction of the paper shredder.
The incident got Rabbi Chaim thinking. Maybe his practice of writing fake letters wasn’t such a good idea, after all.
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
This method of unburdening oneself of anger is good and appropriate.
It is reminiscent of what our sages said (Eicha Raba, 4, 14) regarding the chapter in Tehillim, which is understood to be a reference to the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash (Tehillim 79). The chapter begins "A mizmor (song) of Asaf, G-d, nations came into your inheritance." Why is the author of the chapter referring to it as a mizmor? Seemingly, it would be more appropriate to refer to the chapter as a dirge, not a song! Our sages explained that it is, in fact, appropriate to sing a song regarding the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. By destroying a brick and mortar building, as beautiful and holy as it was, G-d effectively poured out the punishment which the people themselves deserved, on the sticks and stones of the Bet Hamikdash. This destruction thereby gave the Jewish people a second chance, to repent and return from exile in the future.
So too, in our situation, Rabbi Chaim acted appropriately, by pouring out his anger on a piece of paper, rather than on the student in question. However, Rabbi Chaim erred greatly in leaving the letter in a place where it could be found and read by someone else. If he chooses to use this anger diffusing method in the future, he must be careful that the letter not be left in a place where it can be found by others.
In summary: Rabbi Chaim acted appropriately in attempting to dispel his anger, by writing the letter.
(However, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita, maintains that writing a letter to let out one's anger is nonsensical).
Rabbi Daniel Kirsch
Rabbi Daniel Kirsch studied for many years at the famed Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. He currently lives in Kedumim in the Shomron, where he studies at the yeshiva and teaches classes for adults. In addition, he teaches at an elementary school.
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