The Vilna Gaon explains that the main purpose for our being brought into this world is to perfect our middos and align them with the middos of Hashem. Nevertheless, changing even one middah can take years of hard work, making our ultimate goal seem almost unattainable. The middah of anger in particular is notable as one of the hardest middos to repress. Many, if not all people will at some point in their day feel a tinge (or surge) of anger. Whether it is because someone said something rude, or you are stuck on line at the supermarket… anger in some form or other follows us around. Chazal relate countless anecdotes regarding the evils of anger. When discussing the “golden path”, the desired measure one should have in his character traits, the Rambam writes that anger is the one middah in which there is no middle path. One should not have any trace of the middah of anger in his repertoire of emotions. How can we achieve such a lofty goal? To not have any anger seems nearly impossible.
There is a puzzling Gemara that says that “someone who tears his clothing out of anger, or someone that breaks his dishes out of anger or someone that throws away his money out of anger is viewed as one that worships idols.” (Shabbos 105b) The Gemara explains that the yetzer hara has complete control over this person, to the extent that were the yetzer hara to tell the person to worship idols, this person will actually commit idolatry. How could this be? How could acting upon one’s anger lead to such a terrible sin?
Another Gemara is equally puzzling, but may bring us to properly understand what anger is and how our worldview affects anger. The Gemara writes that “any man that is haughty it is as if he worships idols.” (Sotah 4b)
So we see two different Gemaras comparing having a bad middah to idol worship. But what’s the connection? And why these two bad middahs in particular, and not laziness or some other bad middah?
Rav Chaim Friedlander, in Sifsei Chaim, offers a fascinating insight into anger. He says that anger is really an outcome of haughtiness! Why are we angry? Because someone did something to me that I was not happy with. “How could that person talk to me so rudely?” “How could that person do that to me? ”Me, me, and me. We also get angry at different situations. “How come I had to wait in line for so long!”Who are we angry at in these situations? Sadly, the One that put us in the situation, namely Hashem, is where the real anger is unknowingly directed. Hashem is The Source of everything that happens to us, and every situation we are placed in is according to His design.
This understanding can change our perspective when we have anger towards another person. Does this person have it within his power to affect us without Hashem deciding that this is the situation we should be in? Can a thief steal from you without Hashem deciding that you should lose that money or item? The answer is a resounding NO. Only Hashem decides, so if we are angry at another person that anger really is translated into an anger towards Hashem for deciding that this action should happen to us.
Now we can understand both Gemaras. Haughtiness leads to anger and anger rejects Hashem’s hand in the world. If so, we now have an amazing tool to help us combat and overcome anger. Let’s look at an example:It is already 2 O’clock! There is no way I will make it on time to pick up the kids and be able to run into the store beforehand. There are never any parking spots in the shopping center and I don’t see any now. Oh, there’s one, Baruch Hashem! What…? No! I scream when someone races in and steals my parking spot. Are you kidding me — that was my spot! How could they! But then I stop and calm down. Hashem is the One who “stole” the parking spot. He put me in this situation to test me and see how I would react. So I say another Baruch Hashem, and I see another parking spot opening up in the distance. I passed my test and all will be well.
When one keeps in mind that Hashem and no one else is in charge, there really is no room for anger in our repertoire of emotions. By allowing ourselves to accept and understand that Hashem placed us in this upsetting situation we can curb our anger and be one step closer to achieving our ultimate goal of perfecting our middos.