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Talmudic Treasures by Rabbi Ziona Zelazo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The toxic impact of Anger – BT Pesachim 66b

BT Eruvin 65b attributes the teaching of Rabbi Ilai:

A person’s character can be discerned by three things: koso (“his cup”), kiso (“his purse”), and ka’a’so (“his anger”). This refers to our behavior with drinking alcohol, with money, and with anger.

One of the most persistent emotion that we all experience is the feeling of anger. Occasionally we express anger without being aware of it and it shows in the way we talk, the words we use and even with certain body language that is different from the regular state of being relaxed.

But there are also those who express anger in violence. Anger that is expressed with a temper tantrum (yes, I have seen adults), hitting others, or it could be as simple as punching the wall.

I often ask myself whether it would be better to internalize anger and not express it in any way. Would it be better to smile all the time and seem like a nice person and not rage at everyone? I think that this would be unhealthy. Living with a mask is difficult. It takes a lot of energy and builds pressure. On the other hand, if we externally express anger, we equally damage ourselves and others. Articles in the Journal of Medicine and Life and Psychology Today make it clear that the feeling of anger stimulates the stress hormones, specifically corticosteroids and catecholamine, which leads to body metabolic modifications, vascular problems, and heart problems. And that “A strong emotion that is accompanied by arousal of the nervous system, anger produces effects throughout the body. But if you express it, you’re not necessarily better off”.

So, the dilemma remains.

In BT Pesachim 66b we read how the sages viewed anger and its consequences. The following section that is taught by Reish Lakish is related to his personal tragic story. He died as a result of anger.

Reish Lakish was first a robber or gladiator. After meeting with Yochanan he married Yochanan’s sister, became a student of Torah and then his study partner. They both worked well together. One day, they had an halachic discussion about the purity of knives and weapons. Yochanan alluded to Reish Lakish’s life as a bandit, in which a knowledge of weapons was a matter of habit. Shocked and insulted, Reish Lakish responded in anger. They refused to speak to one another or forgive one another. Yochanan died of a broken heart, and Reish Lakish died shortly thereafter from the pain of it all.

Here is the text:

Resh Lakish said: As to every man who becomes angry: if he is a Sage [wise man], his wisdom departs from him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy departs from him”.

Following is the example of Moses, who lost his wisdom due to anger, and forgot the laws that the priest Eleazar taught him; “And Moses became angry at the commanders of the army…” (Numbers 31:14). [And, in this portion of the week, Moses loses it again in the case of the Golden calf].

The example for lost prophecy is Elisha, the disciple of Elijah. He loses his prophetic ability because the anger he had for King Yehoram of Israel. “And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have you to do with me?!” (2 Kings 3:13), and it is written: “And now get me a musician.” As the musician played, the hand of Adonai came upon him [the spirit of prophecy] (2 Kings 3:14).

The Gemara continues:

“R. Mani b. Pattish said: Whoever becomes angry, even if greatness has been decreed for him by Heaven, is cast down”.

The Gemara is stressing that anger is not beneficial. It seems to be a universal feeling. Like what the Buddha taught: “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” Or like what Mark Twain used to say: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

What are we to do with it? There is a lot to think about and there are many ways in which one can examine her/his feelings.

Next time we feel anger, ask - is there an appropriate / justifiable time to either expressing it or not?

Next time we feel anger, be mindful of the fact that what we might say we might regret forever.

Or, perhaps, discover the inner forces that trigger our anger. Would it not be wonderful if we could convert all these feeling to positive acceptance of life with lots of forgiving and strength?