Anger Prevention

    January 2009            
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Anger and G-dís Providence

By Nachum Mohl

The Talmud (Shabbat 105b) equates one who becomes angry to one who worships idols. Obviously one who becomes angry is not an idolater, so what is the comparison that the Talmud is trying to make?

What we do know is that anger is action that can cause great harm, yet we see several times in the Torah that Moses, the man of G-d, became angry not just once but several times. Even G-d Himself gets angry, as it is recorded in the Bible. So why is anger considered on a par with idolatry?

The answer is that when a person falls into anger, it means that his belief in G-dís ever present providence has rescinded from his cognitive awareness. Belief in G-d does not merely mean that G-d exists but that there are other forces and factors in the world that determine the events and happenstances. Belief in G-d means that G-d is actively directing the entire world in a direction to which He, and He alone, desires. Believing that there is any other force that can control or direct the world in a manner in which G-d is not actively involved is not just folly but equal to idolatry.

If this be the case, why is it that not just irreligious people, but good, kind, observant religious people (and this including Moses) fall prey to anger? It would seem that the more religious a person is then the less prone he should be to anger.

In reality, this is true to some small degree. As we note in the Torah, Moses fell prey to anger Ė but it was very seldom Ė and it was only when the anger was necessary. Truly religious people, meaning those to whom the recognition of G-dís presence in the world in very important (as opposed to mechanically religious people who are ďreligiousĒ due to social contacts and peer group membership) should have a lesser degree of anger, and a greater degree of patience.

But first let us examine what the Talmud really understood as anger.

The Talmud says that a person can be understood by three types of measures: (in Hebrew) kees, kos, kaas, which are translated as his pocket-book (kees), his glass (kos) and his anger (kaas). What the Talmud is tells us is that a person can be evaluated by one or all of these three venues.

The first is kees, the pocket book. On what does he spend his money? This shows us what he considers as important in life. In what manner does he relate to money? Is he a spendthrift or a tightwad? When he opens his purse, it is for that which he considers important. Does he purchase impressive things to impress his neighbors, or does he only purchase that which is necessary to maintain his life? Does he spend freely on mitzvots or does he try to get by on the least possible? Each of these is a factor in assessing his inner thoughts and personality.

The second measure, kos, is how he drinks wine and what he does and how he acts after he drinks. When wine comes in, secrets slip out. When a person is a bit under the influence of alcohol he begins to open up and expose his inner feelings and thoughts. This tells us what a person is really like under his cover of sobriety.

The third measure is kaas, anger. Most people get angry from something. What causes him to get angry? This is the key to his heart. Each person has something that will annoy him; one person is angered by women drivers, another is annoyed by long lines, another by people who through their garbage in the street. Yet others are not moved by this at all. This shows where their value systems are at. Moses was angered by Jews who did not follow with G-d with the degree of faith that he had. We can see from this that Mosesí valued faith in G-d above all things.

Yet these three items, kees, kos, and kaas  have something in common. Since they begin with the same letter and ending with the same Hebrew letter, this shows a relationship between the words. If you will notice a glass and a pocket book are containers that hold or conceal something within them, the glass (in the time of the Talmud was not of glass but earthenware) and the pocketbook. Anger, kaas, which is mention in the Talmud, is similar; it is a strong emotion which is concealed within the heart. What we today call anger, the explosive emotional response, is called by the Torah, ketzev.

The key to controlling anger is not merely in taking courses which give techniques to dispel anger but rather more so is to be found in the total belief that G-d is constantly directing the world in accordance to His desires.  This is not a belief that is stored in the remote recesses of the mind, but rather an active mind which is constantly fixing on G-dís goodness in the world.

There is nothing as gross as a religious person who blows up, yet we can see this. This does not mean that he does not believe in G-dís omnipotence, rather this just means that his belief and awareness of G-d does not permeate into his every day life. Rather it lingers in the back of his being - coming out only at times such as prayer and holidays. For a person who comes to grips with situations that are frustrating and can cause anger and yet remain calm, he must spend time each day reflecting on G-dís active involvement and running of the world. He must strive to see G-d in every aspect of the world. This requires quite a bit of contemplative and meditative skills.

A person must set aside a particular time of the day, such as early morning or late evening to review the past dayís events and to see the Hand of G-d in them. The more time that a person sets aside and the deeper his concentration is, the more he will be capable of seeing G-dís hand in those unfortunate, but common, frustrations and disappointments that lead us to anger.

Remember the key to being in control is not just in taking anger management courses or making resolutions that he may take on himself, but the amount of personal effort to reveal G-dís actions in the world.  The more he has done to make himself aware of G-d in this world, and especially in his own personal life the greater he will be able to remain calm in difficult situations.

Perhaps it wonít impress your neighbors, but it will keep you level headed. And who knows, it might even impress G-d!


from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine