On Anger

In the summer months, it is customary to study Pirkei Avos on Shabbos afternoon. Accordingly, I present here some remarks by the Maggid related to a Mishnah in Avos. The Mishnah says (Avos 4:23): “Do not appease your fellow man when he is angry.” In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaSinah, chapters 4 and 5, the Maggid discusses the topic of anger and quarreling.
Anger is an extremely bad trait. It is the characteristic trait of the nonkosher wild beasts and nonkosher birds, which ravage any creature that crosses their path. To borrow a phrase from Yeshayah 14:29, its progeny are a flying fiery serpent: revenge, grudge-bearing, embarrassing people in public, and the like. So many evils result from anger!
Our Sages condemned anger in extreme terms, saying (Nedarim 22a): “One who gets angry is like one who worships idols.” Even Moshe Rabbeinu was led to error because of anger (Vayikra Rabbah 13:1). Who among us is greater than Moshe, that he can say he is immune to the adverse effects of anger? And it is many times worse with a person who is naturally prone to anger. Just as a snake can find food anywhere (“dirt shall you eat”), so, too, a person with an angry nature can find something to be angry about in almost any situation. For example, if he hates a certain person, anything that person does can cause him to explode. And whatever the trigger may be, once he has broken out in a fit of anger, it is, as the Mishnah teaches, futile to try to appease him. Any attempt to do so will only spur him on to further anger, resulting in a raging fire that cannot be extinguished. Instead, you should leave the person alone, either by walking away from him or waiting until his anger has subsided. If you leave the angry person alone, he will thank you afterward, saying: “Bless you for staying quiet yesterday and keeping me from becoming violent.”
If you try to talk to a person who is in a fit of anger, you run a high risk of stumbling yourself into the sin of improper speech. The person will respond to you with a verbal assault, and most likely you’ll be unable to keep yourself from answering him back in kind, if not in words then with an insulting gesture or facial expression. As Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Mishlei 17:14): “The beginning of a quarrel is like releasing dammed-up water; before the argument comes out, abandon it.”
One should not be misled by what Shlomo says elsewhere (ibid. 3:30): “Do not quarrel with a person for no reason, if he has not done you (גמלך) wrong.” We might infer that there are situations where we may start a quarrel with someone else. But it is not so. For you have no justification for getting angry at someone, taking revenge or bearing a grudge, if he did not mean to wrong you, or if he meant to wrong you but did not cause you any actual harm. Now, if a person takes some action against you with intent to wrong you, but Hashem designed this action to be, one way or another, for your benefit, then the person has not done you actual harm. The term גמל that Shlomo uses denotes a person’s accomplishing what he planned to do; as in the phrase ויגמול שקדים in Bamidbar 17:23, it denotes a potential effect being actualized. But in the situation we just described, the person did not accomplish what he planned to do at all: He planned to harm you, but what he did actually benefitted you. Thus, Shlomo has in fact left us no opening to hate a person or get angry at him, for it is a basic tenet of the Jewish faith that everything that happens to us comes from Hashem, and is ultimately for our good.
An episode involving David HaMelech illustrates the proper attitude regarding actions that others take toward us (see Shmuel Beis 16). Shimi ben Geira hurled a fierce curse at David. One of David’s men, Avishai ben Tzeruyah, said: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king. I will go on ahead and take off his head!” But David replied: “What does it matter to me or you, O sons of Tzeruyah? He is cursing because Hashem said to him, ‘Curse David.’ … Let him curse, for Hashem told him to do so.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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