Imagine you are a school principal, presiding over thirty
teachers. Despite repeated reprimands, a certain teacher
continues to arrive late every day. Or you are a loyal patron
of the local greengrocer, where you have ordered for years.
For the last two weeks, he has been sending you bruised
apples and rotting lettuce. Or you are a conscientious
parent, and little Shmuely keeps escaping your hand and
running into the street.
All of these situations evoke emotion and seem to demand a
strong reaction. After all, if not, you may be walked on. Or
even worse, you may not be living up to your
responsibilities. Is it ever correct to feel and express
anger? If so, when and how?
The best way to determine the appropriateness of all
middos is to look at Hashem, the source of all
middos. This follows Chazal's general principle that
states, "Ma Hu, af atoh." As He is, so should you be.
This means that the way Hashem deals with us is how we should
deal with others.
According to the Rambam, every response we produce can and
should be measured next to Hashem's conduct with us.
Therefore, if Hashem gets angry, there must be room for
anger. What then, are the parameters of such anger?
We can begin by examining when Hashem gets angry. If we pay
attention, we will see that when Hashem gets angry, it is
only with our best interest in mind. It is not an emotional
response, but a mechanism for us to improve our behavior.
This is a good measure of the appropriateness of our anger.
We must contemplate whether, at the moment of anger, we have
the utmost concern for the party with whom we are upset.
The Rambam says that anger is appropriate when it is
"ka'as haponim, velo ka'as halev," that is, it is an
outward expression of anger and not an inner feeling. Just as
Hashem does not change His feelings for us, we may not when
we are angry. If we must catch our breath and cool down after
an angry reaction, then it was not a proper response.
When is anger the acceptable and appropriate form of
behavior? There are three basic areas of suitable anger.
Safety is one area, especially when dealing with children. If
a child runs into the street, a parent's mild reaction will
not do enough to prevent repeat performances in the future. A
child must develop an internal negative sense about this
dangerous behavior. An angry outburst from a parent causes a
child to associate strong negative feelings with moving
Another situation that could call for an angry response is
when one is in a position of authority, such as an employer,
teacher, or committee head. Anger may be necessary at times
to create an aura of reverence. Again, it must only be
external, and not felt in the heart, balev.
Another instance that warrants anger is when someone has
violated a Torah principle. If we care deeply about
something, we are emotional about it. If we lose our temper
over a spilled glass of milk, we convey our concern for
cleanliness. But if we are angered by someone speaking
loshon hora or moving muktza, then this
demonstrates how important these Torah principles are to
We have presented a few areas when anger is permitted and
possibly required. But we must add a word of caution.
Frequent use of this tool is destructive.
Let us look again at how Hashem treats us. We are far from
perfect angels, and err much more than we would wish to
admit. But in Hashem's kindness, He does not continuously
Frequent angry reactions cause the recipient to become numb
to them and will not effect a behavior change. In this way,
our outbursts should be rare.
Thus far, we have spoken about permitted external forms of
anger. However, there is one area in which we are supposed to
actually feel anger in our heart. This is when we must
express rage at the yetzer hora. Chazal state,
"Le'olom yargiz odom yetzer hatov al yetzer hora." "We
should always engage our good inclination against our evil
one." In this case, we are actually supposed to be so enraged
that we tremble (rogez) at our yetzer hora. We
say to our archenemy, "I am fed up with you! Leave me alone
and get out of here!"
In most cases, however, an angry reaction must remain
external, with no trace in the heart. But what happens if we
do feel anger inside? The best way to tone down this anger,
while still affecting another person, is to use a soft tone.
If we feel ka'as balev, then we should not express it
on our face. Our voice should be quiet and, by keeping it so,
we will regain our self- control. Incidentally, a soft
reaction to provocation often gives one the upper hand in an
I know a certain talmid chochom who had mastered this
technique. When his study partner raised his voice in the
midst of a Torah discussion, the former lowered his. The
other side would get more and more emphatic about his
opinion, while his opponent remained firm and calm. In the
end he was always right.
If we push someone against the wall, he will undoubtedly
fight back with a guaranteed angry reaction. Then, we have
failed to get our point across. On the other hand, if we
maintain our firm position and allow others to express their
views, our position will also be heard.
Kano'us is a branch of anger. Zealousness is a
passionate reaction to something wrong. During this time we
are being lochem milchemes Hashem. Indeed, we are
allowed to be excited and aggravated over misbehavior, but we
must be careful and calculated. When responding this way, we
may only do so in order to defend Hashem's Honor.
The following incidents display the need for such calculated
responses. The Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Eli Mayer Bloch
zt'l, once attended the wedding of a family member of
a prominent community leader. This public figure approached
his grandson's bride and embraced her right in front of HaRav
Bloch. HaRav Bloch immediately responded by slapping him on
But on a different occasion, when the same thing occurred,
HaRav Bloch did not respond. Those who attended the wedding
were surprised that HaRav Bloch ignored the atrocity.
This married couple later had a son. When the boy turned
thirteen, HaRav Bloch received a phone call from the parents
expressing interest in enrolling their son in his yeshiva. He
was shocked and asked them why they became so interested in
formal Jewish education?
The father explained that he remembered that at his wedding
HaRav Bloch had witnessed two people embracing right in front
of him and did not react. The chosson was so impressed
by HaRav Bloch's sensitivity that he promised himself that if
he would have a son, he would send him to HaRav Bloch's
Although HaRav Bloch was known as a zealot, he knew how to
weigh all the factors and properly determine when to engage
in kano'us. For most of us, zealousness is rarely an
appropriate reaction, because when we get worked up, it is
extremely difficult to consider the full ramifications of our
Anger Towards Oneself
Another facet of ka'as is anger at oneself. Some
people have a tendency to berate themselves again and again
over mistakes and blunders. They may lock their keys in the
car and not forgive themselves for days. Or they may slip up
in an area of avodas Hashem they were working on, and
become seriously depressed. Chazal warn us, "Al tehi rosho
bifnei atzmecho." If Hashem does not consider us wicked,
why should we?
We should be generous and forgiving of ourselves, just as we
must be with others. This is not to say that we overlook our
mistakes and pretend they did not happen. On the contrary. If
we err, we must correct our mistake and contemplate the best
way to improve ourselves. But this reaction should come
Here is a tip for avoiding angry feelings. If someone
bothers, disappoints, insults or frustrates us, we must ask
ourselves, "If I get angry, then what?"
What will my angry reaction accomplish? What will I gain by
releasing my steam? Once we realize the futility of anger, it
will often dissipate by itself. Then we may react from a
kinder, more forgiving position. And the results will be much
Yet, the best way to avoid anger is to be mekabel kol
dovor besimcha, accept everything with happiness. Once we
believe that things are the way they are meant to be, life
will be much easier to deal with. The more we realize that we
are not in control and that Hashem is, the less annoyed,
upset and downright angry we will be. With Hashem's help, our
roller coaster ride through this world will become smoother.
And even when we face those unexpected turns, we will find it
easier to go with the flow.
Rav Dovid Siegel is rosh kollel of Toras Chaim in Kiryat