Guest Posting By Der Ewige Jude - Anger
I’m feeling a little down but I know how to make myself feel better, just a little push, and… I can feel the warmth spreading through my veins, my heart pounds, my breathing deepens, I can feel my skin tighten and my muscles bunch, my face is flushed, my scalp tingles and beads of sweat are forming on my forehead, I feel elated, I feel powerful, and I…..have an addiction. Like all addicts, I am ashamed of my addiction and would like to rid myself of it, but I also love the way it can make me feel, the euphoria, the invincibility. My drug of choice is not heroin or crack, my particular drug is anger, and I know just the words and images to play in my head to get the adrenaline flowing. The problem is that, like all drugs, when misused, it is emotionally and physically destructive.
Just as drugs can be beneficial when used properly so can anger. We are given examples of the consequences of negative and positive anger in two consecutive parshas. First parsha Chukas tells about Moshe and the misuse of anger, then parsha Balak tells of Pinchas and the proper use of anger. Before discussing these further, please allow me to quote a rather long passage from the Zohar, Soncino Press, II 182A:
And how is one to discern whether a person is one whose acquaintance is to be cultivated or shunned? By his temper; for by his demeanor when roused to anger can his character be discerned. If he guards the holy soul when he is wroth, in order that it may not be uprooted from its place, and supplanted by the "other side", then he is indeed a man, a servant of the Lord, complete and holy. But one who in his ire cares nothing for the welfare of his soul, uprooting it and letting it be replaced by the impure domination, such a man is a rebel against his Lord, one with whom we should shun contact of any kind, for he is one who, as it is written, "teareth his soul in anger" -- he tears and uproots his soul in heedless rage, and allows a "strange god" to usurp its place within him and to take possession of him in its stead. Thus the words, "Cease ye from a man whose soul is torn in his anger" (aph = anger as well as nostril), are obviously an injunction to refrain from intercourse with him who tears the holy soul and defiles it in his anger, "For wherein (ba-meh) is he to be accounted for?" – such a one is "accounted" an "idol" (bamah, lit. "high place"), and to associate oneself with such a person is like associating with idolatry. And not only that: such a person has uprooted holiness from its place and raised in its stead a "strange god" there; and as in regard to a "strange god" it is written: "Do not turn to idols" so it is prohibited to look on the face of such a person in his anger. As to the question, What about the anger of students of the Torah? That anger is good in all its aspects, since, as we have been taught, the Torah is fire, and it is she who kindles that holy anger in her devotees, as it is written, "Is not my word like a fire? saith the Lord". The anger of scholars is for offences against the Torah, it is in her honor, it is for the sake of the Holy One’s glory and majesty. Therefore it says: " For the Lord thy G-d is a consuming fire, he is a zealous G-d". But if a person becomes angry over purely secular matters, this is no service of G-d, and no sin that man commits is so literally idolatry as this, since it actually sets up an idol in the very heart of him who is angered: unto such a man one is forbidden to speak or draw nigh. Should one say, But, after all, this anger is only a momentary impulse from which he may soon repent – why, then, such severity as this? The answer would be, that in reality it is not thus, because he has uprooted the holiness in his soul from its place and the "other god" has entrenched himself therein, and will never leave him until by a great effort the person so afflicted completely purifies himself and roots out from his inner self that evil, and thereafter endeavors to sanctify himself afresh, and to draw holiness down from above upon himself; then only can there be a possibility of renewal and sanctification for him.’ Said R. Jose to him: ‘Why only a possibility of renewal and sanctification?’ R. Judah replied: ‘Consider this: when a man uproots the holiness of his soul and is given admission to that "strange god" in its place – the "strange god" which is called "impure" – that man has become polluted and he pollutes everyone with whom he comes in contact, and holiness flees from him; and, holiness having since fled, whatever the person may do afterwards, it will not return to its place again.’ Said R, Jose: ‘And yet, how many who had defiled themselves are purified!’ R. Judah replied: ‘But anger, in contradistinction to sins which pollute only the body, pollutes also the soul and, in fact, the whole being.
As can be seen from the above passage, anger in secular matters is compared to idolatry. When a person becomes angry and arouses the fire within, over a perceived insult or challenge to themselves they declare themselves to be extremely important. The "I" has taken control. How could someone say that to "me"? That person didn’t act in a properly respectful way towards "me". "I" gave simple instructions and they were not followed. In all these situations the person has taken affront over the challenge to the "I". He has made himself the most important thing, an object to be respected and feared. This, of course, is exactly what idolatry is. By acknowledging the supremacy of Hashem, a person must realize that he himself is nothing. How can someone that truly realizes that they are nothing take offense at anything that happens? They cannot, for they will realize that all is sent from Hashem for their own good. Every situation is a test. And what are they, they are nothing. But when a person allows "I" mentality to take over, then they have placed themselves as the most important entity in the situation, they are revering themselves, and want the reverence of others also, …idolatry.
Returning to our parsha examples:
Bamidbar 20:7 :
Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: "Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters…..
Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock and he said to them: "Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?" Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice.
Moshe and Aharon’s punishment was premature death and not being permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael. Rambam states that Moshe’s sin was becoming angry, he forgot that he was there to sanctify Hashem by his actions. He became angry with the people’s complaining, challenging his leadership, and he shouted: "Listen now, you rebels" then he stated: shall "we", Moshe and Aharon, not Hashem, "bring forth water". In his anger he forgot Hashem and focused on himself. The people them assumed that Moshe’s anger was in fact Hashem’s anger with them, and for causing the people to think this, he and Aharon were punished.
Bamidbar 25:7 :
Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand. He followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman…And it shall be for him (Pinchas) and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d.
Pinchas also became angry and acted with anger, however, his anger was not anger of the self, it was not his own internalized anger, it was anger "for the sake of the Holy One’s glory and majesty". Because of this difference his angry action was rewarded.
I am not Moshe and I am not Pinchas. I am just some poloni who is trying to deal with his own anger. I try to redirect the need I have, for the fire within, into intensity in learning and davening. One of the reasons that I was drawn to the Chasidic world was the kinetic aspect of the davening, the movement, the niggunim, they provide me with acceptable outlets for that internal passion. I try to remember not to make it about "me."
In discussing the incident with Moshe and the waters of strife, Rabbenu says in Likutey Moharan 20:5 :
And this is striking the boulder twice. One striking was the taking of the Torah lessons by force, with coercion. He did not ask for it gratis, as explained. And there is another striking. For "whoever presses the hour, is pressed by it" and he passed away prematurely. And with his passing, the Divine Presence, which is the Supernal Heart, wails and cries over him. And this is "twice" for both Moshe and Aharon died as a result of the striking. As it is written, "Theses are the waters of strife…" Because of this, a person should not pressure himself about anything. Rather he should request with pleading. If G-d will give it to him, He will give it; and if not, not.
From the elucidation Likutey Halakhot, Gezeilah 5:7 :
Pressing the hour is one of the major causes of suffering in life and is often the reason that people sin. Even the very great tzaddikim, whenever the Torah attributes to them a shortcoming, it is because they "forced" something before its time….If the very great tzaddikim can make this mistake, how much more so is the average person likely to fall prey to this…. Even when one already faces difficulties and suffering, the only way to overcome them is by not forcing the issue; but by praying with entreaties. Praying and praying, again and again, waiting for G-d to send His help the way He understands it is needed.
Anger is about power, power to make things happen when you want them to, because you know best what you need and when you need it. This is forcing the issue.
I ask Hashem that my anger manifests only in acceptable ways, I ask to be able to recognize Hashem’s hand in all things, that I submit to Hashem’s will. I ask Hashem to help me, and I ask for Hashem’s help in accepting Hashem’s help
Der Ewige Jude's blog Crawling to Uman can be seen here.