Okay, so I yelled a little too loudly when I yelled at my daughter. Okay, so maybe she didn’t deserve as much of my anger as I let out. But, she did deserve some of it, didn’t she? I mean, after what she did, could I just let it pass? Not say anything? Pretend it didn’t happen?

Who would she become, then? Should I just tolerate everything for the sake of not getting angry?

Okay, so it does make the house unpleasant and casts a pall over the evening, after I yell and she walks off with that look on her face and goes to her room and closes her door.

You’re right, it scares the other kids, who just sort of look away and stay quiet for the rest of the evening, hoping I won’t get mad at them.

And yes, I was in a bad mood when I came home, and yes, that did have some bearing on the way I responded. But still, should I have just let it pass? I mean, doesn’t Chaya need some discipline, sometime?

“Your dignity,” my wife said.

“What? What does my dignity have to do with this?”

“When you yell like that, you lose your dignity.”

“My dignity?” I questioned with exasperation. “I thought we were talking about her, about her behavior, her need to be taught right from wrong.”

“You can do that with dignity,” she said again. “When you lose your temper, you lose your dignity.”

Okay, she got me. I sat down, ready to hear more. I took a deep breath and tried to stuff my defenses in my pocket long enough to hear what she had to say.

“Chaya loves you,” she explained convincingly. “She craves your approval. Your slightest look of displeasure is picked up by her and all the children.

“If you had simply grimaced,” she continued, “it would have given her the message, taught her the lesson, and, yet left your dignity intact.”

“Just grimaced?” I asked, disbelievingly.

“Just grimaced,” she repeated. “Chaya—all of them—are totally tuned in to you. You are their father. They love you and want you to be happy with them. When you’re not, they notice and it matters. If you believed this, you wouldn’t have to get angry. And if you didn’t get angry, you’d keep your dignity. And if you kept your dignity, you’d teach them how to keep theirs as well.”

Whoa! This was a lot to take in. Too much to take in. And how did my wife get so wise? And where did she even find the courage to say all this to me, this husband not especially known for accepting criticism in the lightest of ways, especially from his wife; this person who often saw criticism when there wasn’t even any around.

Was there any around?

Well, I looked and I couldn’t find any. It felt close to criticism. It had some of the texture and smell of criticism. But there was something in the way she was telling me all this that didn’t feel like criticism. But it did feel really important. Like something I should hear if I could just get my ego out of my ears.

“You mean to tell me that if I just grimace, the kids will get the message?”

“Yes,” she said, “though you might also have to explain what you’re grimacing about. But you don’t have to yell to do that. Your displeasure is loud enough.”

“And when I yell?” I asked.

“Painful,” she said. “Straight into their little hearts. The hearts that love you.”

Oh, my!!

“But I don’t want to be so responsible with my behavior,” I screeched. “What about spontaneity,” I pleaded. Can I ever be myself again? I cried out to the One Above.

“Of course,” she replied. (My wife, not the One Above.) “Just don’t get so angry. You don’t need to, and it hurts your dignity. And the kids want you to have dignity.”

Dignity. What a word. What a concept. What exactly did it mean? How could you lose it? Where can you find it?

“You’re on your own. Figure it out. You’ll get it,” she said with confidence, and in such a way as to preserve my . . . yes . . . dignity. We ended the conversation with my ego intact.

So, I started my research where any good student would go: to the dictionary.

Dignity: The presence of poise and self-respect in one’s deportment to a degree that inspires respect; loftiness and grace. Syn. Decorum.

Intrigued, I followed the link to decorum.

Decorum: . . . suitableness of speech and behavior to one’s own character, or to the place and occasion . . . Poise in behavior.

Poise again. I had to check that out.

Poise: To be balanced; the state or condition of being balanced.

This is what my wife was talking about, wasn’t it? “. . . suitableness of speech and behavior to the place or occasion . . . ,” “poise and balance.” My anger had been out of balance with both the occasion and my daughter. I had done the opposite of “inspiring respect.”

I began to think of my little Chaya trying to receive and contain my outburst of negative energy. I was angry for my own sake, not for hers. I had not only lost myself, but I had forgotten my daughter as well. She was simply overwhelmed by my intensity, unable to absorb or understand it. She was frightened, and I could envision her little mind and heart bursting from the power of my voice and words and facial expression. There was no way this anger could have any positive effect. My anger was only delighting in its own expression. And in behaving like this, I had lost, as my wife said, my dignity. And my daughter had suffered the consequences.

Later that day, I was studying a book on the sefirot, the ten divine “attributes” which G‑d assumes in order to create and interact with our existence.

I was learning about chessed (kindness/outpouring), gevurah (restriction/containment), and their merger in tiferet (beauty, or what I might now call dignity).

In the description I was reading, the word “balance” was used to describe tiferet, as the dictionary had used this word to describe dignity, decorum and poise.

The passage was describing the balance between “outpouring” and the receptacle to contain it. When the ideal balance exits, beauty is the result. When things fit together properly, when form perfectly matches content, when balance occurs and proportions are correct, things are beautiful. They have grace and poise.

And when applied to behavior, I thought, they have dignity and decorum.

The Kabbalists say that when the outpouring is greater than the vessel can contain, the result is a “shattering of the vessel.” When the outpouring is too little, the result is a vessel left in need. But when the outpouring is, as Goldilocks says, just right, the vessel just big enough—the result is beautiful, a perfect fit.

Again, it was not difficult to see the relevance to my daughter and my behavior. And as I continued to read, it was as if the words were printed over a vague outline of her face looking up at me, sometimes smiling, sometimes expressing the shock and anguish she felt as I yelled at her.

The passage continued to describe the way that G‑d constricts and restricts Himself so that each container, no matter how small, is provided just the right amount of G‑dliness without breaking. And I now had a glimpse of what was required of me. As challenging as it seemed, I figured that since I was created in the image of G‑d, He had probably given me the resources I needed to accomplish what seemed the impossible.

I would need to match the outpouring of my expression to fit my daughter’s ability to receive. And this would require that I come to know her ability to receive, that I tune deeper into her sensitivities, the size of her heart, the fragility and strength of her emotions, her capacity to understand her own behavior and mine, and to keep this knowing foremost in my mind and heart.

Returning again to Chassidism and the order of the sefirot, I related this level of knowing to the sefirah of daat, which precedes and influences the sefirot of chessed (outpouring, expression) and gevurah (restriction, containment).

Though daat is preceded by, and is a combination of, the sefirot of chochmah (wisdom) and binah (understanding), it is not an intellectual knowing, not a mind knowing, but a deeper knowing—an intimacy with the other that bridges the distance between subject and object, between knower and known.

As I thought about my daughter, I related daat to the kind of knowing that occurs between parents and children at their best. The sort of knowing available to those created of the same blood, seed and egg, the same DNA and soul, the same family and home. It was difficult for me to contemplate this level of knowing without imagining the deep love that would result, and the overwhelming desire to give and be kind to that which comes to be known in this intrinsic way.

Thinking about this and my little Chaya, my love and affection for her filled my awareness, and as I remembered yelling at her on this unfortunate morning, my behavior now seemed unbearably abhorrent and cruel.

Seeing now how ugly I had acted and the pain I caused her, I marveled at how kind my wife had been to me. At the time, I could not have listened to a description of my ugliness without shutting out my wife’s words in my own defense. In her wisdom, she had chosen words that I could hear and learn from. She had spoken to me not of ugliness, but of dignity.

I now had this strange feeling that chassidic teaching was telling me how to be a better father and husband, and my daughter and wife were teaching me how to better understand Chassidism, and myself.

I began to see that I would not, as I feared, be denied my spontaneity. Though my behavior would no longer be controlled by outbursts of emotion, neither would it be the artificial result of stiff, premeditated thought. From coming to know my daughter—or my wife—in the ways that Chassidism described, I saw the possibility that my expression could rise from a different kind of spontaneity, one that sprung naturally from my best mind, from my open heart, from my caring and love.

I saw the possibility of maintaining my dignity while giving my daughter the ability to receive and learn from that which I wished to impart, as my wife had given that opportunity to me.

And I saw that the result would be beautiful, in the way that all things are beautiful when they fall from the mind into the heart to be expressed by our actions and words.

To my daughter, my apologies. To my wife, my gratitude. To Chassidism, my appreciation for the refinement you bring to my life.