Middot - Anger

By Elisheva Maline

In his book Patience Rabbi Zelig Pliskin tackles that monster, impatience, by offering bite size pieces of advice on how to reign in emotional outbursts. One anecdote in particular caught my eye: someone's father was wont to have lapses of control whenever his wife or kids weren't on time for family events, work checks came in late or supper was burnt (the horror!). The man of the house admitted that he hadn't realized just how much his impatience was damaging his family until, one day, his daughter handed him a week's worth of recordings taping his bouts of anger. Horrified at how he sounded, the father immediately set out to reform his behavior. Rabbi Pliskin concludes that if we were able to get an outsider's perspective, or better yet, see our behavior reflected in other people's actions, we would have a more solid view on how we appeared in the eyes of others, and thus, make a change.    

So what exactly does anger look like? Is it a red faced punk with smoke coming out of his ears, shrieking about some grievance or other? Is it the painting of a sweater falling to bits, which modernists dubbed "Millennial Fraying Nerves"? While speculation about the root causes of anger may prove fodder for psychological discussion, spotting the actual process of fraying nerves does not require a four year stint in university. Anger, which usually stems from one's frustrated desire to be in control, can show itself in one's striking another with his words, cold shoulders or. even fists.  

There's also the question of why anger is such an issue in G-d's court. A gemara in Nedarim (22a) [an inference from a verse earlier on in the gemara] talks about how one who lives in Bavel (i.e. outside of Israel) is prone to anger, and [also] that one who gets angry pushes away the Shechinah (the manifestation of G-d in this world). Similarly, a Gemara in Shabbos (105b) says that one who breaks objects in anger is akin to one who serves avodah zarah (serving strange gods). Irascibility has led people to delusions of grandeur (think Joseph Stalin beating his way to the top), the belief that one's family and friends respect him (or her) when, in fact, they're just afraid of him. Worst of all, anger has managed to totally leave Hashem in the dark. In three words, it's not good.

If you'd like to keep an eye out for a lost temper, take note of those wretched moments when you find yourself hitting a short circuit and ask, "Why is this happening?" Once you identify the root causes of your anger, you can bring G-d into the picture. Daven (pray) for patience. Until then, the adage "Fake it till you make it," has helped many a parent embrace  children who, after having broken some expensive household item or other, are trembling with remorse. Be gentle. Remember: one who is prone to anger also has a great capacity for equanimity. And just to make mention of one of life's absolutes: none of us has control over anything, not our actions, not our speech nor even our thoughts. The only ground upon which we have room to tread is in the arena of ratzon: it's a pure, raw and unadulterated desire for change, and the will to be more than what we already are.

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