In this week’s Torah reading, the Jews went to war against the people of Midian, as God commanded Moses that they should do. When the men returned from the war, the verse tells us that Moses got angry at them for not executing all of those who God wanted to be killed for causing the Jews to sin. After this episode, Elazar Hakohen instructed the people about the procedure that the food utensils they obtained from battle with Midian needed to undergo in order to be used. Rashi notes the fact that it wasn’t Moses himself who instructed the people about these laws. Moses would ordinarily be the one to do so, being that he was the leader. Rashi says that it was actually a mistake which Moses made. As a result of Moses getting angry, Moses forgot about these laws, and therefore Elazar Hakohen stepped in. Rashi cites two other instances where we find that Moses got angry, and as a result, he made mistakes.

We might think of anger as being part of life; something that is expected to happen in stressful situations, and not much of a big deal. But we see from Rashi that it isn’t so. Rashi makes a point of stating the three times that Moses got angry, and how there were immediate consequences. Getting angry is actually a sin, as our sages tell us (Zoahr, Bereishis 27b) that getting angry is akin to idol worship. In fact, the Talmud says (Nedarim 22a) that one who gets angry will suffer all types of pain in Gehinom (hell), and he will suffer medical problems during his lifetime as well. Expressing anger is not a simple matter; it is a trait one must work on to control from surfacing.

Why is getting angry so terrible? The Mesilas Yesharim (chapter 11) explains that when a person gets angry, he loses control of himself. Losing control of the way you act is an awful behavior on its own right, and also leads a person to do other terrible things. When a person is caught up in rage, he doesn’t care about anything. He becomes like an animal that has no self-restraint, and if he’d have the power to do so, he could potentially even destroy the world. Anger is such a terrible trait that our Sages instruct us to distance ourselves as much as possible, even from mild levels of anger.

How does one suppress anger? The Ramban starts his famous letter to his son, Igeres Haramban, with advice on how to avoid this awful trait. He instructs his son to always speak calmly in order to avoid anger, for anger is a terrible trait that causes man to sin. Although it may be difficult to suppress the actual feelings of anger from being aroused, one can deliberately speak in a soft and composed manner. This itself will affect the way a person feels and control his anger from bursting out. The Orchos Tzadikim (Gate of Anger) adds that when a person feels that his anger he is being aroused, he should be silent or speak softly, because raising one’s voice arouses the feelings of anger even more.

When something triggers our anger, we feel a surge of energy to display toughness and strength. We feel that displaying anger exhibits control. However, the opposite is true. Anger is the biggest manifestation of losing control. True strength is exercised by controlling ourselves to suppress our anger. Instead of looking at the situation as calling for a reaction to express our firmness, we can view it as a challenge to test our patience, and channel these feelings of excitement to be firm and exhibit control over ourselves.

Rabbi Refael of Barshid wanted very much to have a talis katan (four cornered garment) which was made from wool that came from the Land of Israel, with which to perform the mitzvah (commandment) of Tzitzis. In those days, one couldn’t simply place an order for such an item, so he waited for an opportunity. When he heard of someone who was going to the Land of Israel, he asked him to bring him back wool cloth for his talis katan. When it arrived, he was overjoyed, and he ran to the tailor to have a hole made in it to fit over his head. The tailor mistakenly cut the hole while the cloth was still folded, making two holes in it, rendering it unfit for its purpose. When Rabbi Refael heard about what happened, he responded, “This garment needed two holes. It needed one for my head, and another one for Refael not to get angry over.”

When we view a frustrating situation as a test, it lends us a whole new perspective. It becomes an opportunity to challenge ourselves and overcome our instincts. By acting outwardly in a calm manner, we can change our focus to utilize our excitement to be tough on ourselves. If instead of reacting, we just bite our lips, we can enjoy the victory of remaining in control of ourselves.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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