Through the dvar Torah, Rav Miller discusses Moshe Rabbeinu's anger and why it was a good thing. (Rarely, is expression of genuine anger a good thing.)
From page 4 of the PDF, Rav Miller offers all sorts of advice on how to start restraining an angry reaction and why it's so important.
Really, anger is the one middah for which the Rambam advises going to the extreme.
There is a lot to be angry about in life.
And there may also be truly infuriating situations.
Oftentimes, a person's ego contributes to his or her angry. Even a person who is not so prideful may find his or her ego popping up in times of anger.
And in American culture, it has become fashionable and even praiseworthy to get one's nose out of joint.
For many Americans (and the younger they are, the more likely this is true) getting mortally offended has become instinctive.
It's like people can't control it.
In fact, it's almost become a sign of integrity to get mortally offended...as long as you get mortally offended about the "correct" things. (And the definition of "correct" depends on your audience.)
And how many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of: "...but I'm so mad, I just can't hold it in anymore, so now I'm going too..."?
As if what makes them personally angry is the deciding factor and the justification for whatever they rant about?
How many times have you said it yourself? (I have.)
And how many times is it used to justify a rant, lashon hara, verbally ripping someone to shreds, and so on?
Now, the Rambam certainly does not mean whitewash forbidden behaviors or to ignore injustices or the pain of others.
But one must go to the other extreme with anger.
(And here, I'm writing for myself as much as anyone else.)
One can address injustices and all sorts of other things with that Jewish passion for justice ("Tzedek, tzedek tirdof") without frothing at the mouth and losing one's temper.
It takes training, but it's possible.
Confessions of a Flawed Bumbling Middos-Worker
Meaning, it's definitely worth at least trying to work on this because you do reap fruits even without becoming a tzaddik.
Needless to say, there are still things that make me angry and times in which I struggle so much to keep a lid on my mouth & my boiling blood.
However, there are things that used to make me angry that now, they simply don't.
Meaning, I'm not repressing anger in those particular situations; I simply no longer feel the anger.
Even more, it's hard for me to understand my old self: Why did I get so outraged about this-and-such?
Likewise, my response in situations that make me angry is much more tempered. After a LOT of training (plus lots of crash-and-burning), my tone of voice is modulated...often (but not always) without me meaning to.
Sometimes, my tone of voice even switches in the middle (from gnashing to even-keeled) without me consciously making it happen.
Meaning, the tone-modulation has become automatic. And that's possible with a lot of practice. I think it's has to do with making new pathways in the brain or something.
Yet am I where I want to be regarding anger?
No, I have a lot of work to do still.
There are still situations with which I find overwhelming.
But fewer situations and less so.
And I'm much happier without getting as angry & self-righteous & outraged & mortally offended.
By avoiding anger, you also avoid a lot of shame and blows to your own self-respect.
Plus, it's a more honest and less ego-invested way of being.
Emotions are a God-Given Reality – Use Them Wisely!
Rav Avigdor Miller, quoting Kohelet 7:29, emphasizes that Hashem made Man perfectly.
We're supposed to feel all sorts of middot – both the good AND the bad.
The good middot are supposed to attract us to the right path and the bad middot are there to either be used in a positive way or to be utilized in our self-rectification by overcoming that bad middah.
This is hard to remember in modern society. When Americans aren't being mortally offended and indulging in self-righteous huffin'-'n'-puffin', they aren't supposed to be feeling anything uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable feelings are meant to be medicated, according to much of society today.
In parts of Europe & Scandinavia, it's even worse because an unemotional state is considered the superior one. Being cool & unaffected is the ideal (until they get drunk, of course).
Yet Rav Miller notes on pages 6-7:
The wise man learns how much of each middah is to be used and in which situations, so that he should achieve perfection of character al pi haTorah.
That's the authentic Jewish way of relating to emotions.
The Positive Uses of Anger
And he tells us how to use this process when faced with a potentially violent Jew-hating incident (to run away and then how the body naturally deals with any wounds inflicted).
Anger is also good in battle.
The Tribe of Levi, the Tribe of Moshe Rabbeinu & Aharon HaKohen & Miriam HaNeviah, became separated for greatness – the Kohanim & Levi'im – all because of righteous anger.
Truly righteous anger: They were angry on HASHEM'S behalf. Truly.
When Pinchas speared Zimri and his shady lady, Pinchas wasn't looking for a fight.
First, he needed to get a spear (he didn't walk around with one looking to gore people). And then Pinchas needed to call forth his anger in order to carry out the necessary deed.
This was a man in complete control of his middot; a true and imitable kanai (zealot).
The Gehinnom of Anger
Then on pages 10-11, he compares anger to dynamite.
Dynamite is good for blowing through mountains when you need to build a tunnel for a railroad or a highway to improve quality of life.
However, it's not good when you forgot your key and your wife & children aren't opening up for you fast enough, so you blow the door open with your dynamite.
(Great mashal, BTW.)
On page 11-13, Rav Miller quotes the well-known idea that for an angry person, all sorts of Gehinnom will have control over him.
When this idea is quoted, the speaker usually uses that as an opening to discuss the terrible kinds of states an angry person finds himself in This World.
And this is very true.
In fact, Rav Miller discusses this. He personally knew people who developed diabetes and blindness all due to anger.
In fact, one man (page 16) who become blind from anger ended up living all by himself in poverty in a dangerous neighborhood – this poor blind Jewish man.
Rav Miller remarks that the man had what to be anger about – his initial anger was understandable – but despite him being in the right, he still ended up in a self-made Gehinnom.
That's a big lesson: The man endured a genuinely infuriating situation!
Nonetheless, he (and we) are not supposed to give in to anger.
In other cases, people end up with strokes and other dangerous medical conditions due to anger.
However, Rav Miller also notes that it's the classic Gehinnom that entraps the person after he dies.
An angry person does all sorts of sins. How many frum people have left frumkeit because they were angry?
But not only that.
A totally frum person becomes mean and says hurtful things from their anger. As Rav Miller states:
People break other people’s hearts in their anger.
He also mentions that angry often brings people to slander others & ruin their lives.
A person even comes to the point where they lose their belief in Hashem due to their anger.
All this earns Gehinnom.
So what's the cure?
How to Work on Your Anger
All the things that transpire in this life are actually in themselves meaningless to us because they are all the concern of Hakodosh Boruch Hu alone. It’s His business!
While you're getting your emunah in focus, Rav Miller recommends the following books to help you with your anger:
- Pele Yoetz
- Orchot Tzaddikim
- Shevet Mussar
- Reishis Chachmah
- Mesillat Yesharim
(I'm going to also add Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus's 2 volumes on emunah, Nefesh Shimshon: Gates of Emunah, which weren't published yet at the time of this speaking.)
On pages 18-20, he discusses how to look angry without actually feeling angry, a method sometimes necessary for dealing with specific situations.
But then he comes back to training yourself.
Keep reading the right things and keep practicing.
He acknowledges that this kind of transformation does not happen overnight.
But, he promises, if you keep working on it for years & years, you'll be richly rewarded for all that inner work. You're fulfilling the tikkun for which you came into the world in the first place.