The Danger in Anger – How to Avoid this Most Self-Destructive Trait
Though things have generally gotten back to normal and life for most of us has gone on, the horrific tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is still very much on our minds, both here in South Florida and in the greater country. As is the case with most events that attract this much media coverage, recent weeks have seen several “national conversations.” Gun control, mental health, and school safety and security have all been the subjects of endless debate and analysis, much of it important and worthwhile. But, one underreported aspect of the shooting that still haunts me is rage. How could a person be filled with so much anger, so much uncontrolled rage, that he is able to devise and execute a sickening, murderous rampage?
The beginning of this week’s Parsha commands us, Lo seva’aru eish b’chol moshvoseichem b’yom ha’shabbos, do not kindle a fire in any of your residences. Of course, this pasuk is the source of the the prohibition to literally light a fire on Shabbos. The Shelah Ha’Kadosh, R’ Yeshaya Ha’Levi Horowitz, offers a homiletical interpretation. He suggests that eish, fire, is an allusion to anger and rage and the passuk is telling us that a person must never, ever let anger or machlokes burn on erev shabbos or shabbos. The Zohar says that moshvoseichem, the Torah’s directive to guard your house from fire, refers to your heart and guarding it from being filled with fire: anger, bitterness, or negativity.
The word “rage” comes from the Latin rabies, meaning madness. Giving in to rage is an act of madness because you give up so much. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 2:3) writes that anger diminishes a person’s overall quality of life: “Those who frequently become angry have no quality of life; therefore, [the Sages] instructed us to distance ourselves from anger to the farthest degree, until a person acts as though he does not sense even those things that would justifiably anger a person.”
Shabbos is characterized by serenity, tranquility and fulfillment. There is no room for even the appearance of anger, impatience or controversy. Erev Shabbos is particularly predisposed to anger as everyone is rushing and hurrying with much to do. We are faced with children who are not cooperating or adults who are not meeting our expectations of what needs to be done. On Shabbos too, we can easily be tempted to be angry when the meals don’t go the way we want, our nap is disrupted, or the rabbi went on too long with his derasha. This is why, the Shelah explains, the Torah specifically warns us: Lo seva’aru eish, abstain from anger on Shabbos.
We often think of anger as an instinctive emotion, a reaction that we cannot help or control. Clearly, the Zohar, the Shelah and others didn’t see it that way. After all, kindling a fire is prohibited on Shabbos because it is meleches machsheves, constructive work, it includes an act of creation. Anger, too, is a creation, not simply a natural reaction. When we get angry, we have made a decision, consciously or subconsciously, to create anger and to allow ourselves to be angry, but we don’t have to. Lo seva’aru eish, don’t create anger. Be in control and resist the urge which can in fact be overcome.
Rav Asher of Stalin wonders why the pasuk in last week’s parsha—Elohei Maseicha Lo Sa’Aseh Lach, don’t create/worship a foreign deity—is immediately followed with es chag haMatzos tishmor, observe Pesach? He explains that the lead-up to Pesach is a stressful time where one can very easily become angry. We get angry with the prices of Pesach food, angry with our spouse or children for bringing chametz out of the kitchen, angry that we aren’t going away for Pesach, angry that our family members are coming to town. Allowing ourselves to get angry is giving in to self-worship, to thinking we are in charge, we can control, or things have to go our way. Part of getting ready for Pesach and getting rid of chametz is getting rid of our anger. Don’t give in to the urge, don’t create anger.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand what kind of anger can cause someone to violently take others’ lives, especially children. But it’s no secret that anger is something every one of us struggles with on some level and can always find ways to improve. Especially now as we prepare for Pesach, we should all strive to fulfill Lo s’vaaru eish b’chol moshvoseichem – let’s try to go into Pesach without giving in to the urge to be angry, to yell, to be negative. Imagine the freedom we can feel at the seder if we arrive having been liberated from the prison of anger and the negative consequences that come with it.