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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

Chapter 23

23. Anger

A short-tempered person tends to justify his own actions and to blame others. A person must learn how to stop and ask forgiveness, to admit having been wrong, and to appease those who have been offended. “Be slow to anger and easy to appease.”
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Pathways in Personality Development (52)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
22 - 22. Pride and Humility
23 - 23. Anger
24 - 24. Jealousy
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Even though everybody knows that it is not good to be angry and short-tempered, not everybody knows just how negative this trait is. It can reach a state where a person becomes "easy to anger and difficult to appease," i.e., a wicked person. Such a person is angered by every little thing that runs counter to his desire. He becomes filled with rage to the point where he loses control of himself and acts irresponsibly, injuring, offending, and sometimes even destroying, breaking, and causing damage. Regarding such behavior, the sages teach, "Whoever becomes angry is seen as having performed idolatry."

There is the sort of person who becomes angry on a smaller scale. Not everything makes him lose his temper, but when he does, his anger is very great and it is difficult for him to free himself from it. Such a person is "not easily angered," but it is difficult to appease him. Yet, even this is an undesirable trait, for while he is angry, he can do negative things which he will not be able to repair later.

Then there is an individual who is less inclined to anger than the previous. Such a person becomes angered less frequently, and even then, his anger is not so great and he does not lose complete control over himself. But it is difficult to appease him and he retains his anger in his heart. This is better than the previous types, yet he nonetheless remains tainted by this undesirable trait.

And there is another type of person: one who is not easily angered, and even when he does become angered, his anger is very mild, and he immediately overcomes it and gains control of himself. Such a person is characterized by the sages as "difficult to anger and easy to appease," and he is considered pious (chassid).

How can one overcome anger?

First of all, one must realize just how negative a trait anger is. After this, a person begins to pay attention to what it is that rouses his anger. Next, he makes an effort not to get into situations which can cause anger. He finds ways to avoid such situations and instead develops the trait of patience. This was the trademark of Hillel the Elder who was extremely patient and could not be made angry.

It once happened that two men made a wager with each other, saying, "He who goes and makes Hillel angry shall receive four hundred zuz." One of them went to see Hillel on Sabbath eve while the sage was taking a shower. The man knocked on the door and said that he had a question to ask.

Hillel robed himself and went out to him. The man asked Hillel a senseless and annoying question, and Hillel answered patiently, as if the question was most important.

Some time later, the man returned and again knocked upon Hillel's door and requested to ask him a question. Once again Hillel came out, the man asked an annoying question, and Hillel responded as if it were most important.

This went on a number of times, and each time Hillel remained calm and answered with humility. Finally, the one who was asking the questions became angered and said: "Because of you I lost four hundred zuz. All because you are so patient and humble." Hillel said to him: "Is worth it that you should lose four hundred zuz and yet another four hundred zuz through him. Just let Hillel not lose his temper."

And so, it is important to develop the trait of patience, to be forbearing, to prevent anger from even beginning. At the same time, one must learn how to escape anger as soon as he finds himself ensnared in it, one must learn how to be easily appeased, not to fortify oneself with anger, not to let anger grow.

It is not very pleasant to have to apologize and admit having gotten carried away. A short-tempered person tends to justify his own actions and to blame others. A person must learn how to stop and ask forgiveness, to admit having been wrong, and to appease those who have been offended. "Be slow to anger and easy to appease."

"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit [is better] than he who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:32). "Slow to anger" refers to one who avoids entering anger to begin with; "he who rules his spirit" refers to one who has become angry but overcomes it.

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Some of the translated biblical or talmudic sources in the above article might have been taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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