In previous articles we examined the challenging problem of
haughtiness (ga'avoh), our basic human tendency to
feel more important than others. We learned several
techniques for eliminating this trait from our lives, most
importantly to concentrate on the reality that Hashem's view
of us far outweighs what we or our peers think of us.
Now that we have scraped off the first layer of pride from
our hearts, we can analyze its direct offshoot, anger. Simply
put, anger is the expression of ga'avoh in severe
"His blood was boiling." "She blew off steam." "In the heat
of the moment."
Have you ever noticed how many cliches relate anger to heat?
The Meiri explains that in fact, anger is the process of
blood boiling in our hearts. As it boils, our water begins to
steam and ultimately exits through our red nose. This is
Rashi's explanation for the Torah's common expression,
Vayichar af, literally "his nose burned." In essence,
a person in a state of anger resembles a tea kettle spurting
out steam from the spout.
Let us develop this thought. Anger is a conscious decision to
apply emotion to a particular experience. One takes an
experience to heart and activates a heating process. As the
blood boils, its heat needs to escape and it forces its way
out in the form of anger.
Dovid Hamelech warns us, "Lo yihyeh becho eil zor --
You shall not have a foreign deity inside of you." What is
this false god? Chazal teach us that this refers to anger. A
foreign deity? Granted, anger is damaging, but idol worship
seems a bit extreme. What is the connection?
A deity is something to which one becomes subservient. When
we get angry, we allow our emotions to escalate to such a
degree that they control us, in full. In other words, we
literally create for ourselves something to control us.
To the modern person, old-fashioned idol worship seems
ludicrous. How can I bow down to something I just created?
How can my creation have power over me? But someone who
allows anger to control him is doing the very same thing:
giving power to something he just created.
Anger is a conscious decision to forgo logic
and to become irrational. An event occurs -- albeit
frustrating, annoying and insulting -- and I must make a
decision. Shall I control my emotions or permit them to
If I choose the latter, I have chosen a foreign deity for
myself. I then subjugate myself to my emotions and allow them
to fly freely. In fact, this haughtiness has snowballed so
much that it has convinced me to do whatever I want, even
against Hashem's will.
Let's examine what makes anger so terrible. Ka'as is
different from most other middos. When we misuse our
other character traits, the area of damage is somewhat
limited. Let us take ta'avoh (lust) for example. If
one craves a particular food, he is only interested in that
one food. If he lusts for ice cream, then he wants ice cream.
Even if one's passion encompasses many foods, it is limited
to those physical pleasures.
However anger is an all-inclusive middoh that causes
one to throw away everything.
The tumah (impurity) of avodoh zora completely
takes over the person, affecting his entire being. The only
comparable situation to this is anger. In a fit of rage,
there is virtually nothing that one would not do.
Kabboloh teaches us that it is forbidden to gaze at
the face of an angry person, because at that moment, there is
an avodoh zora operating within him.
When someone is unhappy with life and angry at Hashem chas
vesholom, he will search for a way to get whatever he
wants. A person can set for himself the rules of his
avodoh zora, thus freeing himself from all
Similarly, an angry person makes anger into an entity and is
prepared to listen to whatever it dictates. The Zohar
Hakodosh says that when one becomes angry, he actually
loses part of his spiritual essence and replaces it with a
bit of yetzer hora.
We have the choice. If we wish, we could engage in anger and
make a rational decision to be irrational -- a sensible
choice to be insensible. In other words, we can choose to be
controlled by anger, or we can choose to control
The "Real Me"
Nowadays, people search for their true essence, by traveling
to India and beyond to find themselves. But Chazal taught us
years ago that we need not travel to discover our inner
They said, "Bishloshoh devorim odom nikar: bekiso,
beka'aso, uvekoso." A person can be truly discovered
through three things: his pocket, his anger, and his cup.
Setting aside the pocket for now, let's look at the parallel
between drunkenness (his cup) and anger. When a person
engages in either of these areas, he loses his sense and self-
control. Once his protective coating is removed, his true
self is exposed.
After one sobers up from his drunkenness and recalls what he
said or did, he wonders, "I can't believe I said that!"
"Where in the world did that come from?" But we tell the
drunkard that nothing comes out that did not come in.
The same is true of anger. In an angry outburst, insults are
hurled. In a fit of rage, accusations are flung. After
calming down, the angry person may be as shocked at himself
as the recipient of his wrath. What did I just say? I did not
really mean that! I am usually so sensitive and loving! Where
did it come from?
Chazal tell us that it all came from deep within. Those were
those silent thoughts and feelings that you always kept in
check, but this time they escaped through the hole that your
anger opened for them. So one good reason not to get angry is
to prevent exposing ourselves to ourselves and others. There
may be many things we opt to keep under lock and key, but our
anger will quickly undo that.
The Meiri warns us not to be quick to anger, "pen tikro
beka'asecho asher lo titofeir beretzoncho -- lest you
tear something in your anger that you cannot sew up later
when want to." An angry person can often destroy something
that is irreparable. Many a marriage was broken by a fit of
anger. The same with partnerships and friendships. By the
time the tide subsided, it was too late. The castle was
smashed and thrown into the sea. Another expression of this
is that a ripped book can be repaired, but an emotionally
broken child can not.
Our Value of Logic
The Orchos Tzaddikim presents another motivation for
controlling our anger. The author urges us to determine how
important logic is to us. When we get angry, we discover how
much we truly value sense. If we do something irrational
during our anger, we know that sense has limited value to us.
If our life would be honestly dictated by logical wisdom,
then we could not overreact even when we are upset. In other
words, if we fully integrated wisdom and sense into our
being, we would always react reasonably.
To further illustrate this point, let us think of someone
getting angry. At that moment you cannot present any line of
logic to him. You simply cannot reason with emotion. One's
sense is just not there. Do we really want to lose our sense
and release our grasp on logic? If not, we should keep our
emotions in line and allow our minds to rule over them.
We have proven the importance of overcoming anger, but the
big question is: how?
Anger is very real and a hard habit to break. The best way to
begin to deal with it is to analyze our past bursts of anger
and to gain insight into what triggers them off.
The first step in combating anger is regretting it. Those who
are accustomed to blowing off steam several times a day may
feel no contrition for speaking sharply to others and losing
control. Some may even believe that pent-up anger is
unhealthy. One of the proponents of this theory was not
invited to his own children's weddings. We see where that
method leads. Indeed, the Torah teaches us to regret all our
wrong actions and never to condone them.
The second step is determining why I become angry. After that
horrendous outburst, it may be difficult to understand why I
"lost it." After all, it is illogical for me to consciously
decide to abandon logic. I must therefore attempt to retrace
those cognitive steps that brought me to the doorstep of that
anger. Once I have done this, I can hope to steer my thoughts
in a different direction the next time around.
Now that I have regretted my anger and determined what
triggered it, I can prepare for the future. What will happen
the next time I feel my heartbeat accelerating and the blood
rushing to my head? How can I stop anger in its footsteps?
Ramban tells us, "Tisnaheig tomid ledabeir kol devorecho
benachas lechol odom uvechol eis, uvezeh tinotzeil min
haka'as -- Accustom yourself to always speak calmly to
everyone all the time, and with this you will be saved from
anger." Sounds easy, but experience proves that old habits
The Vilna Gaon recommends gradually building towards that
level. For a mild-mannered person, simply speaking calmly is
enough to gain self-control. But someone with a more volatile
nature will have to take slow but sure steps towards the goal
of controlling anger. To begin, even counting to ten and then
exploding (if necessary!) is a step in the right
Incidentally, counting to ten is a very effective method of
combating anger for the following reason. There are four
stages in the process of anger: 1) becoming offended; 2)
becoming disturbed over it; 3) losing control; 4) acting
angrily. Counting to ten allows time for sense to kick in and
stop the cycle somewhere between stage two and stage three.
Even if I do explode, it will be a much more tame response.
Gradually, I will become more accustomed to controlling my
emotions and less likely to "lose them."
How does one completely eradicate anger? The question is
better posed: "Is it possible to totally eradicate anger?"
The answer is no! Pirkei Ovos teaches us that are four
levels of angry people. The first is one who is angered
easily and difficult to appease. The second is one who is
easily angered, but is also easily appeased. The third is one
who is slow to anger, but difficult to appease. And the final
level is one who is not easily angered and is also easy to
Something seems to be missing here. What about the one who
never gets angry? The answer is that, with the exception of
Hillel Hazokein, this level does not exist. Chazal point out
that even Moshe Rabbeinu was brought to the point of anger in
defense of Hashem's mitzvos. We must accept that anger is
part of our human emotions. But we can also learn to deal
with it and keep it under control as best as possible.
Are there any more tips on overcoming anger? Well, one
excellent way to avoid common anger is to lower our level of
expectations. Most anger results from things not happening
the way we anticipated. We generally become disturbed over
our control -- or rather the lack of it -- in a particular
As we mentioned, the root of anger is haughtiness and pride.
It all begins when I expect something to happen my way. So
when it does not, I get angry. If I would lower the level of
my expectations, I would not be so disappointed when life
does not listen to me.
Take the example of a husband coming home after a long day at
kollel or work. As he travels home, he imagines a
beautiful scene of all his children sleeping, a warm meal
awaiting him, and a calm wife eager to hear about his day.
The reality he meets upon opening the door is drastically
different. He trips over his son's toy car, and two children
run past him squealing with delight as their mother tries to
catch them. A smell of burnt fish is emanating from the
kitchen. Suddenly he feels his nose flaring and his heart
racing with anger.
Now if, on the way home, he had imagined a more chaotic scene
or expected to face total mayhem upon opening the door, what
he would actually meet would be somewhat encouraging. He may
even be pleasantly surprised with what he finds! A good way
to avoid anger is to imagine the worst possible case scenario
and half-expect it to happen.
One more helpful tip is to put the problem in perspective,
i.e. how important is it in the grand scheme of things?
We tend to feel that anger gives us a license to react
however we wish. Once we are angry, we excuse ourselves for
anything we do. But before flying off the handle, let us
think about the effect of our anger. Will it or will it not
accomplish what we want it to? And will we be capable of
undoing all the damage it causes?
In conclusion, becoming more in tune with our internal
thought processes will help us avoid most angry reactions and
control them to the point that they will, at least, not harm
others during our frustrating moments of life.
Rav Dovid Siegel is rosh kollel of Toras Chaim in Kiryat