Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tishrei 5767 - October 3, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Remove Anger from Your Heart!

by Chaim Arbeli

The third book of the Chumash begins with the word Vayikra. Rashi explains the meaning of a call: "All utterances, sayings, and commands were preceded by a call of endearment." That is the order that should be followed: First of all a call of endearment, and then the commands. As parents, educators and members of society we are expected to speak, say, and command. It is very easy to fail and start with anger instead of that "call of endearment!" How can we get over the middoh of anger? How should we act with regard to this middoh when it comes to our children and students? Why is it so terrible to get angry? A fascinating conversation with the famous educator and mashgiach, HaRav Noach Orlowek.


As a first warning, `Gavriel' made do with a light bang on the table. In his opinion, that was sufficient to quiet down the two worshipers who were enjoying an idle conversation in the shul. But it did not help. Gavriel knocked harder on the table, and when that did not help either, he was forced to boom into space a `Nu!' There was no mistaking that.

But the two were obviously engrossed in an interesting conversation, for it was as if Gavriel was speaking to thin air. Gavriel knew that he was right, and he was not about to back down. `Nu!' he yelled, and the two chatterers were finally roused. One blushed, put his finger on his temple and twirled it a little. Gavriel breathed hard, motioned with his hand towards the door, and yelled: "Out!" When that did not help he shouted again:"Ou . . . u.. u.. t! No talking in here!"

Did Gavriel act correctly when he was angry? In the following lines we will try to relate to this question, and to other questions pertaining to the subject of anger in the home, in learning institutions and in society. (As far as Gavriel's case is concerned, the issue we will deal with is only the anger, without going into other concerns about shaming others, and so on.)

We spoke with the well-known educator and mashgiach, HaRav Noach Orlowek. Many talmidim have studied under him, and many more people all over the world have been influenced by his book series, Discipline with Love.

His new book Keshoshannoh Bein Hachochim (Like a Rose Among Thorns) has recently been published, which teaches us how in our times we can raise a pure Jewish child, a shoshannohbein hachochim, despite the street and its influences.


Regarding the middoh of anger, what should Gavriel have done?

First, we have to go into what set Gavriel off. Was he angry about the honor of Heaven being profaned? It is a bit hard to believe. To get angry purely for the honor of Heaven is not an easy level to reach. It rarely happens.

The Chofetz Chaim was always amazed about why people keep many mitzvos so calmly, but when it comes to the mitzvah of reproving others, they do it with anger.

That is because we reprove others when they disturb us!

This is clearly brought down in Keser Rosh 60 143, as follows: "Reproof. Not to speak harshly, since harsh words are not heard unless they are said using soft language. And if it is absolutely not in his nature to speak with gentle words, then he is exempt from [the mitzvah of] reproving."

Whoever is inclined to get angry is exempt from the mitzvah of reproving, since he is to a certain extent like a sick person who is unable to fulfill a mitzvah. To reprove a person, and influence him, you have to love him. Otherwise you cannot help him.

And if we start from the premise that his anger does stem from kovod Shomayim, would it then be appropriate to get angry?

No. There is no reason to get angry. Anger never helps, because an angry person is never heard. Do we really need to consider why Gavriel got angry? He probably got angry because they did not listen to him. Or because he thought they would not listen to him. He asked for quiet and they did not comply, or in a similar, previous case, they had not listened to him. They hurt his pride. That is usually what triggers anger.

If we assume that he got angry for kvod Shomayim, then we should check whether he gets angry over every situation where kvod Shomayim is desecrated, or only when he himself is involved.

It is written that Pinchas merited "My Covenant peace," as a reward for his zealousness. Why? Because shalom lies at the root of zealousness. Zealousness derives from love of others!

I once heard from the Mashgiach HaRav Shlomo Wolbe that zealousness has to come from pain. Reuven loves Shimon, and when he sees that Shimon goes astray spiritually, it hurts him. When this kind of zealousness is involved, it means that Reuven would probably not get angry but would behave in the way Pinchas did when he merited `My Covenant peace.'

Why should genuine pain not arouse anger?

Because when it really hurts, you look for solutions to the problem and anger does not solve any problem. You cannot influence a person when you are angry. Anger does not help and a person who is hurting wants to help!

There is a principle that a person cannot contain two different feelings at one time. A pain that derives from compassion does not go together with anger. When you discover that someone has bad middos, are you supposed to get angry with him? No. You are supposed to feel compassion for him! He has no life, no friends, really nothing at all!

A person with bad middos lives in a dark world, and I will explain why with a story: My teacher and rebbe, HaRav Simcha Wasserman, once wanted to buy a used car. Before purchasing it, he wanted to take the car to a technician to check what condition it was in. The salesman asked him, "How do I know that you are not planning to steal the car?"

My Rebbe did not care for this question and he started to reflect that if he thinks I am a thief—maybe he is a thief? So he decided to check the car's status with the police. It turned out that the car was stolen. The salesman was suspected of a theft because, "a person that charges others may be charging them with his own defects."

A person with bad middos lives in a dark world because he suspects that everyone else is like him . . . the choice is ours whether to be angry with such a person, or to feel compassion for him!

When Gavriel sees someone talking in shul, he does not have to get angry. If he is able to rectify the situation, he should do so. But to get angry?

Let us not forget that the person who is chattering in shul will pay dearly for his action, Rachmono litzlan. Gavriel's zealousness is supposed to be rooted in pain and compassion, and how much should we feel for a person who cannot refrain from speaking in shul!


When is it permissible for an educator to put on a pretense of anger — what we call superficial anger?

Only once or twice a year. Using superficial anger is like using antibiotics: if you use it a lot, its impact lessens. But if we up the dosage—then obviously it is not a solution.

It is very important to use this anger only very sparingly. Otherwise the student will just presume that the rebbe has a bad temper . . . and then the anger will have no effect on him.

However, before using superficial anger, you have to grasp one major principle: if you want to apply pressure within the framework of human relationships, you have to first make sure that the relationship is strong, and that the foundations of love and trust have been already built.

First of all, you have to build mutual trust. Then you can put pressure on the person and still preserve the bond between you. If the relationship is based on trust, then no matter how much pressure and friction there is, the link will not be broken. Before you get angry with a student— even if the anger is put on — you have to build a relationship of trust and love. The student has to know that the mechanech loves him, and then he can respond correctly to the anger.

The Sefas Emes has a discussion (at the beginning of parshas Mikeitz) which explains how the first seven years of plenty precede the seven years of famine in a person's life. You have to start with the `plenty' before you can utilize the `famine.'

Beyom tovoh, heyei betov (when the days are good, enjoy the good), says King Shlomo in Koheles (7:14), since these years are a preparation for "the bad days" that come later. If you do not have the years of plenty precede the bad years, things will be very difficult later on.

So, if the student feels that the mechanech loves him, when he raises his voice he will interpret it as an expression of love, "The rebbe loves me." But if the voice is raised and there is no groundwork of love and care preceding it, the child will not interpret it correctly.

Another important point—you have to respect the student. I do not mean that you have to get up for him when he comes into the classroom, but that when the student says something respond with respect.

When a mechanech remembers something the talmid had told him—"Oh! The other day you told me about that," he is relaying the message: "You are important to me!"

When a child knows that the mechanech respects him, then when the mechanech raises his voice the talmid will see it as his way of caring: "He is shouting at me because he cares."

When we say that it is osur to get angry, the idea is not that we should be indifferent to the actions of a child or a talmid. The problem with indifference is that the student or child could come to think that the mechanech or parent does not care about him. We have to keep in mind that anger is a dangerous tool, especially today when the generations have become weaker.

Could it be that anger today is more harmful today than it was twenty years ago?

For sure. And I will prove it with the following example:

For years I have been going overseas to train teachers in Jewish communities worldwide. In the past I always tried to bring home to the rebbes how a talmid feels as a talmid by using the following method. At a teacher's training course in South America (for example), I gave a group of rebbes a gemora translated into English, and I asked them to learn with it.

I made comments even to the ones who knew English and were able to read it, that their pronunciation was not up to par. In America I gave the rebbes a gemora translated into Spanish.

I put the rebbes into a position in which the assignment was over their heads and then, when they failed, I shot angry looks at them. My aim was to vividly demonstrate to the rebbe a scenario in which any talmid might find himself.

Up until fifteen years ago I was still able to demonstrate the point using the technique I described. But fifteen years ago I started to notice that some of the rebbes were insulted by it!

Now let us go back and see what we are talking about: Here is a situation in which the rebbes knew very well that I had come to teach something specific and they were fully aware that it was all an act. Yet some of them still got insulted by the very demonstration of an angry response. So just imagine how bad a child must feel when the scenario is played out for real on him!

It is true that there are situations when a teacher needs to strongly rebuke his talmidim, but even so we need to be aware of how a student feels! Therefore, if a rebbe is sensitive to the feelings of a talmid and respects him, he will use anger only as necessary, i.e., only on rare occasions, and then only when the talmid will accept it in the right way.


How should we relate to temper on the part of children?

It is worth noting the following: Why does a child get angry? Because on previous occasions he screamed and yelled and was given whatever he wanted, even if grudgingly. Well, actually we are talking about a normal stage that every child goes through.

Up to a certain age an infant cries when he needs something. That is normal up till the age of one, of one-and-a-half. He is hungry, so he screams. Something disturbs him so he cries — and so on. Up to a certain age this happens naturally.

But at a certain point the toddler realizes that screaming is an excellent method of getting what he wants!

From then on, his screaming is more deliberate than natural. But there is no mother in the world who can pinpoint that moment when the screams switch from being natural to being deliberate. The mother continues giving the child what he wants without sensing that by now his crying is an art. By the time she catches on, the child has already become spoiled.

This happens with every child. The only question is how to react. The first rule to keep in mind is: Do not give the child what he wants when he is angry. The child has to learn that it is not worth his while to get angry.

What actually causes a child to have a temper tantrum?

There are two points to examine here: a) Let us try to understand what anger really is. Anger is frustration. The anger expresses the gap between the desired situation and the existing situation. A reasonable person could size up the situation as a whole, and conclude that there is no need to get angry. But a child is incapable of taking a broad view of the situation. He feels hungry, tired, he cannot bear it any more — and he loses his temper.

The author of the Sheim MiShmuel defined the difference between a child and an adult like this: In a child the emotion is paramount, whereas in an adult there is a unification of the mind and the emotions. The word echod has the gematria of 13, and it symbolizes the unification of the mind and the emotions which occurs among those who have passed the age of 13.

One of the differences between the mind and the emotions is that the mind knows that there is a future and it remembers that there was a past. But the emotions only see the present. When a person has a moment of awakening, he becomes certain that the moment will stay with him for ever. That is the power of the emotions—the present!

We have to realize that a child is always living in a state of the present. His whole reality is only this moment! When a child lacks something he becomes an ausmensch (a subhuman). A child is either perfectly happy or a complete ausmensch. Why? Because he always lives in the present.

Two months ago, a respected American Jew was involved in an accident. He lost consciousness and had to be hospitalized. His 4 or 5 year old child managed to digest the fact that his father was not at home, that he was sick. But one thing broke him more than anything else. When his mother took him to the hospital and he talked to his father, his father obviously could not answer him since he was unconscious.

When the boy left the hospital he told his mother: "Daddy does not love me!"

A child does not see the whole picture. He only knows that if he talks to his daddy and his daddy does not answer it means that daddy is angry.

b) Besides that, a child is not affected by intellectual arguments, only emotional ones. Let us take an extreme example. Once we had a mazel tov when a new granddaughter was born. We went to Shaarei Zedek Hospital and sat with the baby in the room. Her mother left the room for a few moments and the baby cried. I picked her up and then I considered that I had two options to calm her down. The first was to explain to the infant that her mother would be back in a few moments, and in the meantime it would be better for her to keep quiet for a few minutes because it disturbs people, and in addition we would buy her whatever she wanted.

Did these arguments and logical suggestions convince her to stop crying? Obviously not.

On the other hand, I could pick up the baby, radiate joy and calm, and she would calm down. We talked to the baby, but an infant's language is only emotional.

That being so, a child who is exposed to situations where there is anger will be very powerfully affected by it. A child does not hear the content of the words—since he only speaks the language of emotion. He hears only how they are said. When a child sees anger in the house, and he sees his father choliloh very aggravated, it leaves an indelible impression on him!

Is there a way of controlling or preventing temper tantrums among children, or do you only have to calm them down when the need arises?

First, let us analyze why the anger bursts out, and later we will discuss how to prevent this.

When a child has a tantrum, you have to take a look at when the tantrums generally occur. Do they happen at certain times or in certain situations: When he is hungry? When a younger brother or a certain adult come in the room? When he comes home from cheder?

(Incidentally, Rabbeinu Yonah speaks of how, when a child comes home from cheder he needs compassion. That is, at the end of a long day of studies he is exhausted and needs to be greeted with a smile of encouragement, and so on.)

Give him a little attention, and that way you can `grab' the right moment, and that is how you will be able to put in the preparation work for the bad times.

You have to take the time — like a week, or two weeks. Keep track of things and mark down when the child has an outburst. You will usually be able to see that the tantrums occur at specific times or in specific situations, and that way you can get to the root of the problem and solve it.

In my book, My Child My Disciple, I brought down a story in the name of HaRav Menachem Weldler zt"l: "Yankele's behavior was really mysterious. In the mornings he was the perfect student. He listened and behaved well, and did well in his studies. But in the afternoons he could not concentrate and was a dreadful student.

"After an investigation, the truth came out. It was not that Yankel did not want to concentrate: he could not. Yankel's mother was unusually hot-tempered. There were days when she welcomed him with warmth and a smile. And then there were other days when she would greet him with anger and hostility. Therefore, Yankel spent the whole afternoon worrying about what kind of welcome he would get that day when he got home."

In this story it is obvious that something mysterious was going on, since Yankel behaved wonderfully in the morning and only in the afternoons was he a dreadful student. But we always need to ask the question: Why? When does a child lose his temper, and what causes it to happen? You cannot solve the problem with a superficial comment, like, "He is spoiled." You have to ask: Why?

In many cases, you can get to the reasons behind it.

When you cannot pinpoint the reason for the outburst, then even if you punish the child and that subdues his rage—the child will remain embittered. One day he will take revenge and then we could lose him forever. So, it is very important to follow up on things and ask: Why? Why is he so angry? What makes his lose his temper?

How do we prevent outbursts of anger?

The child has to really feel that he can speak up and that it is okay for him to express himself. When a child is able to express himself freely, he does not need to get angry.

It is important to talk to children of all ages, but it is most important to listen to them.

Maybe the child will take advantage of this approach and talk too much . . . but that is better than having a child who talks too little.

You need to open up a conversation with him: What's happening? How was your day? Did something happen to upset you? What made you happy today? What made you feel good?

The main thing is that the child talks and the parents hear him out and listen to him. A child who is used to talking has less chance of having temper outbursts. He can talk things out, so why would he need to get angry and yell?

A child has to know that he can always talk. That he will never lose out by talking. There was a child of 11 who stopped talking completely. She was the youngest in the house, and her parents were about 40 years older than she, and they were not in the habit of conversing freely with her. They figured they already had enough experience in raising children and educating them to know what she needed.

I advised the parents to ask her: "What do you think we should buy for dessert for Shabbos?"

And an amazing thing happened: The child opened her mouth and told them what they should buy!

How do we explain such a phenomenon? Well, as time went on the girl got used to the fact that it simply did not pay for her to talk. It hurts to talk and to have no one hear you. That is why it is so important to listen and show empathy, even if we only manage to solve one percent of the problem that has come up.

Why is it that the first word that an infant says is usually `imma?' Because when he says that word he is immediately rewarded by a warm response. He quickly learns that it is worth his while to say, `imma'! If he says a word that is meaningless, or a word that Imma does not understand, he will not get the same response.

This principle holds true for every age: A child talks when he gets a response, when he feels that people care. And when he can talk he will not need to get angry. Anger is nothing but frustration which is caused by a child having no other outlet. Consequently, he is forced to extremes. But when a child is in the habit of talking, he can verbally release what he feels deep down. The chances of such a child having an outburst become gradually lessened.


To sum up: Can you give us some practical advice on how to refrain from anger?

One of the remedies for the trait of anger is to get used to living with a broader picture of the whole situation. Our Sages bring down that the Shabbos candles were instituted for shalom bayis. You could say a derherr (interesting comment) here.

When a person touches an object and he is sitting in a dark room, he can think that that object is all his world, because he cannot feel any other object and he cannot see anything. But when the lights are switched on, all at once he will realize that the object is only one small part of the totality of objects that are in his room.

The light of the Shabbos candles symbolizes a visualization of the totality. When a person gets angry over something, if he would only broaden his vision and see the whole picture he would be able to see the good in the situation as well. A person who gets used to seeing the picture in its entirety will not reach the point of anger so quickly.

One parent told me that his child comes home from cheder every day and complains about his rebbe. I advised the parent to tell the child that he is willing to listen to all his complaints, on condition that he also talks about a good thing he sees in his rebbe. After a day or two, the complaints stopped because the boy began to notice good things about the rebbe as well!

I like to suggest an exercise for anger: When you say the birchos hashachar take a deeper look and see the whole picture: You are standing erect. You can see. You are a Jew! You are grateful to the Almighty for all these things, and you automatically comprehend that whatever it is that made you angry is a tiny speck in the totality of all the good things.

You have a family. You are healthy — and something small happened. Nu . . . don't take it so hard. It is only a small part of the picture in its entirety. A person who gets used to feeling gratitude for everything he has every morning, will not be devastated when something aggravating happens to him.


HaRav Dessler explains why "worry in a person's heart overheats him," since the emotions are defined as hot and the mind is defined as cold. When a person expresses his worry verbally, he washes away his worry in a stream of cold water. The stormy feelings are cooled through words that originate in the mind, and the worry automatically decreases.

Sometimes when you get very angry with someone, one piece of advice that works is to write him a letter expressing all the things you have against him—but don't send it off! Just transferring the stormy emotions into written words cools down the anger. Then you can throw the letter away.


When someone is angry with you, stop right away and think how to prevent his anger from continuing. Think what set his anger off, and what you can do to neutralize his anger.

Often, it means that you offended him in some way. When Yaakov Ovinu sent messengers to Eisov he told him, Vayehi li shor vechamor, tzon, vegomer (I had ox and ass, flock, etc.).

The question is asked: Why, at such a critical time, did Yaakov boast about his extensive possessions?

Rashi's interpretation of this posuk is that Yaakov intended to tell Eisov that their father Yitzchok in his brochoh had promised him, mital haShomayim umishmanei ho'oretz" (the dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth), but Yaakov's possessions were neither from the heavens nor from the earth.

In other words, Yaakov Ovinu was trying to pacify Eisov's fury at having his blessings taken away. He was attempting to show that he had really not benefited from the blessings and so there was no need for him to be angry.

Yaakov Ovinu had thought about what was the source for Eisov's anger, and he was attempting to neutralize the anger at its source. When you try to understand what is going on in another person's head, it is easier to assuage his anger.

Anger usually comes from pride. A person gets angry when things do not happen the way he would have wanted. He feels he was not respected as he should have been and that makes him more angry.

When a person is angry with you, it is usually because you have hurt his pride. When Yaakov speaks to Lovon, and also when he directs the messengers that he sent to Eisov, he answers, al rishon, rishon. Ve'al acharon acharon (first things first and last things last) (see Rashi, Bereishis 31:31 and 32:19).

What do we see here? It is a way of speaking to someone with the aim of pacifying his anger which comes from pride. I am listening to your words, and I am responding in the order that you have spoken: first things first and last things last. Obviously, you are important to me. This assuages the feelings of hurt pride. And that is how we have to always behave: we have to find what is causing the other person to get angry and neutralize that cause.


One of the remedies for anger is recognizing that we do not own the world. Only a person who feels he owns the world gets angry when things do not work out the way he wanted.

I heard from HaRav Avigdor Miller that this is the explanation of the posuk (Bereishis 49:7), Orur apom ki oz . . . achalkeim beYaakov (cursed be their wrath for it is fierce . . . I shall divide them in Jacob). The tikkun for anger is achalkeim beYaakov. Anger comes from pride, from the need to be in control. A guest, for example, knows that he is not in control, so he is less likely to get angry. Do you feel angry? Do you feel you own the world? You will be sent to stay by other people!

Rabbi Tzodok HaCohen says that the tikkun for an accidental murderer is golus, since murder derives from anger. If he would not have fallen prey to anger, he would not have come to murder by accident. Only a person who feels that he has to be in control will get angry.

A person has to realize that the world is not his. He is a guest of the Ribono Shel Olom and all guests get by in the end. A person just has to learn to swallow things in life that are not so pleasant . . .

The Author Who Counselled on Anger from His Personal Experience

Many years ago, the author, HaRav Avrohom Yellin from Wengrove wrote the work Erech Apayim. In his introduction to the work, the author relates how because of his innate nature he was forced to battle with the middoh of anger: "It has been many years since Hashem gave me the idea of correcting it, and so I struggled and toiled with it, using seforim and investigations in order to understand the reasons behind it and how to correct it . . . there is no greater wisdom than that of the experienced and yogati umotzosi ta'amin."

The sefer discusses various suggestions on how to fight anger. We have compiled ten of them here:

A) Anyone who wishes to correct this middoh should let his acquaintances know that he is working on himself in this area, and consequently he will be embarrassed to get angry in front of them.

B) It is brought down in the holy seforim that silence and speaking softly assuage anger.

C) A person should take upon himself not to get angry before he fills his mouth with water for five minutes.

D) So as not to fail by really getting angry when a person puts up a pretense of anger, it is better for him to wait some time after his decision to get angry before implementing his plan.

E) The Shloh Hakodosh brings in his book a segulah to get rid of anger: a person should grab on to the corner of his garment together with the tzitzis hanging on the corner.

F) A person should set aside time to contemplate the vanities of this world on a daily basis.

G) Remember that a person who overlooks other people's faults will have his own sins overlooked.

H) In the Sefer Chareidim it is written that a person should think: Can it be that someone who lost one coin should break a vessel that is worth a thousand coins because of his rage? (That is, the damage he causes himself because of his anger is a thousand times more than the thing that made him angry.)

I) In the Sefer Hamiddos it is written that a person should get into the habit of eating breakfast.

J) A person should rebuke his friend for what the friend did to him that he did not like, so that the friend will apologize to him and his anger will abate.


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