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8 Kislev 5763 - November 13, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
A Middos Workshop:
Cooling Down the Angry Fires

Based on Shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel

Part 2

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 vehicles.

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 us.

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 respond.

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 argument.

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 the face.

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 yeshiva.

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 actions.

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 without anger.

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 more effective.

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 Sefer.

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