The Poison called Anger

Moshe Kempinski

Anger is a cruel and merciless dictator. It conquers the soul and warps it out of shape. We have witnessed how anger unleashes hatred and violence in places like Charleston and in Ferguson. We have seen the insanity of anger and fanaticism burn across the Middle East. We have seen the painful results of unbridled anger and evil sweep across parts of Africa and in the Far East.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto writes:” One who is quick to anger over anything which is not to his liking loses control of his senses and would destroy the entire world if he only could. He is as out of control as a wild beast and is ready to commit all the sins in the world if his anger should lead him to do so, because he is completely dominated by that anger. One who is in such a state is equivalent to an idol worshipper who lacks any sense of discipline in regard to his Creator”

The Ramban wrote to his son the following advice” our Rabbis said (Nedarim 22a): Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom as it is says in (Ecclesiastes 12:10), “Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from your flesh.” He goes on to write “Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This radiant quality is the finest of all admirable traits (see Avodah Zarah 20b), (Mishlei 22:4).Following humility comes the fear of Hashem.”

Yet anger waits for the opportunity pounce in the soul of every individual and in the heart of every mortal being. We read early in the book of Genesis;
” But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell. And Hashem said to Cain, “Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.”( Genesis 4:5-7)

While it is true that anger that burst forth from arrogance and selfish pride is sourced in evil and ends in evil. There are times that anger can come from the desire to sanctify G-d’s name and the passion to protect G-d’s honor. Yet that anger ,as well, can have dire results.

As the Israelite people arrive at the wilderness of Zin they begin to complain about the lack of water and cry out ;

“If only we had died when our brethren died before G d! Why have you brought the congregation of G d to this desert, to die there, us and our cattle? Why have you taken us out of Egypt—to bring us to this evil place?” (ibid 20:4-5)

G-d instructs Moshe the following ;

“take the staff, and gather the people, you and Aaron your brother. And you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give its water.” ( ibid 20:8)

Moshe assembles the people and declares to them;

“Listen, rebellious ones! Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?”( ibid 10).

He then proceeds to hit the rock twice and waters flow out to quench the thirst and the fears of the people.

Hashem then says to Moshe ““Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land I have given them.”( ibid 12 ).

While there have been many that attempted to explain the failure in Moshe’s actions and present an understanding of what occurred as a result, Maimonides focuses on anger

He explains (Shemona Perakim, Ch. 4) that the problem occurred due to anger. Moshe had lost his patience .It is possible that the lack of patience had something to do with the death of his sister Miriam. It is in that anger that Moshe experiences a fall in his prophetic ability
Moshe did not speak to the stone not out of disobedience but rather that he lost the ability to speak prophetically.

It is this concept that is described by our sages; “anyone who is angry , if he is a wise man his wisdom will leave him. If he is a prophet , his prophecy will leave him” ( Masechet Pesachim 66b) .

If a man such as Moshe who entered before the throne of Glory and who witnessed much that mortal men can only dream of can stumble in anger how much more so musty we be careful and aware of the pitfalls of the poison called Anger.

Clearly we are all bidden to battle all manifestations of evil and all examples of hatred. Yet we cannot lose sense that this battle and striving must be done clear of personal fears insecurities and thoughts of malice. The battle against evil in all its earthly forms is not a personal battle. It is a battle that we are engaged in, on behalf of and as a vessel for, a much higher cause and purpose

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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