Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anger Management

The Gemara (Berakhos 7a) explains Bilam's ability to successfully curse people as follows: God becomes angry every day for a brief moment ("God is angry every day", Psalms 7:12). Bilam knew that exact moment ("And knows the knowledge of the Most High", Num. 24:16) and would curse people at that time. However, on the days that Bilam wanted to curse the Jewish people, God did not become angry so as to thwart Bilam's plans.

Now, it should be clear that God is not subject to being overwhelmed by an emotion. If so, we have to ask what the purpose is of this anthropopathism of the Gemara. What can we learn from the Talmudic description?

Click here to read moreThe Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:10) says that there are four types of people when it comes to anger: those who are quick to anger and quick to be appeased, quick to anger and slow to be appeased, slow to anger and slow to be appeased, and slow to anger and quick to be appeased. About this last type, the Mishnah states that he is pious. There are two approaches as to why such a person is considered to be at the highest level of personal conduct.

The Midrash Shmuel states that really anger should be avoided altogether. However, that is not realistically possible for human beings and therefore the Mishnah praised those who quickly overcome their anger.

Rabbenu Yonah and the Rashbatz disagree. They say that while anger is almost always improper, there are rare moments when it is called for (both bring Pinchas' action at the end of this week's Torah portion as an example). Therefore, the Mishnah could not say that never becoming angry is the ideal. The best trait is to become angry only when necessary and to use that anger appropriately.

It could be suggested that this is the meaning that can be found in the Gemara's anthropopathism. God is described as becoming angry briefly and quickly becoming appeased. There is certainly sufficient improper behavior in the world for God to be constantly angry. However, He contains that anger and only uses it appropriately. That is the lesson of "God becomes angry every day" and of being slow to anger and quick to be appeased.

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