Dvar Torah – On Anger

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 29 June 2012

According to the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 113b), shloshah hakadosh baruch hu ohavan there are three types of people whom God loves.

The first is mi she’eino koeis – someone who never gets angry.  Which, unfortunately, rules me out.

I would love to say that I am one of those people who can let frustrations wash over him.  But alas this is not the case.  Now don’t get me wrong; I am not some seething ball of rage, far from it, but there are times when the frustrations of life boil over.

And, as the quote from the Bavli indicates, this is not an especially endearing quality – metaphorically, not something that God is especially keen on.  To the sages, our ability to control our temper is one of the things that define us.  According to Rabbi Ilai (Eruvin 65b) there are three ways that we can tell a person’s true character – b’koso (by his cup – by how he drinks); uv’chiso (by his wallet – by how he is with money); uv’cha’aso and by his anger.

Elsewhere the Bavli is even more extreme.  Someone with an anger problem is described as having a life that is not really a life.  In a classic piece of Talmudic hyperbole, someone with extreme anger is also compared by the Talmud to an idol worshipper.

In this week’s parashah, Moses gets angry – so frustrated with the Israelites that he strikes a rock instead of speaking to it as God has commanded.  It is an act of disobedience that sees him excluded by God from entering the Land of Israel. According to Maimonides it is the anger rather than the disobedience that leads to Moses’ punishment. His anger, to Maimonides, is an act of hillul hashem by a great man, a desecration of God’s name.

Of course, Moses and I are not alone in losing our temper once in a while.  In the section of Torah that we are going to read this morning we have a classic example of God’s anger – in fact, not for the first time, God’s response to Israelite complaints is extreme, more angry than Moses’ in the chapter before.  Like a parent who loses his or her temper with the moaning of the children rather than listening and trying to work out what is really going on – God reacts with extreme prejudice, letting fiery serpents loose on the people.

It is not the only example of divine wrath.  The Talmud states that God gets angry everyday (Brachot 7a), which makes me feel a little better.

So anger is a part of our nature – but one that we should seek to control.

I am not mi sheeino koeis – someone who never gets angry.  So I am not worthy of divine love in that respect, at least not yet.  Fortunately there are two others whom God loves: mi she’eino mishtaker (one who does not get drunk) u’mi she’eino maamid al midotav (And one who does not insist on always getting what he thinks is his due).

So better news for me. Well, maybe.