DIVREI TORAH

PINCHAS: ANGER – WE REALLY CAN CONTROL OUR ANGER

OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: PINCHAS: WE REALLY CAN CONTROL OUR ANGER

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

Dedicated by Josh & Bronya Levi in honor of the upcoming wedding of Chaim Weber and Tziona Hoffman.

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Anger.

We all contend with it.

And we all contend with it in different ways - one of which is by “venting.”

By pounding punching bags. By screaming at mirrors. By “releasing” frustration.

And that is terrible.

Why? Because “venting” doesn’t limit anger. Nor does it limit the problems that follow in anger’s wake.

“Venting,” instead, exacerbates anger - as attested to by the following study.

In a study, participants were asked to write essays on sensitive subjects.

“Teachers” then graded those essays with terrible marks and annotated them with degrading comments.

That, of course, angered the participants.

The participants were then divided into two groups. One group’s members were told to “vent” their anger by punching a bag for two minutes. The other group’s members weren’t given an opportunity to “vent.”

Members of both groups then played a “game” where they “punished” opponents with noise blasts - whose duration and volume those “game players” could moderate.

The blasts’ duration and volume were then measured.

And do you know what those measurements showed?

That those who had “vented” their anger on punching bags made the loudest and longest blasts![1]

Why was this so?

Probably because venting makes anger “real” – thereby, making those who vent, angrier yet. Which can prompt them to make longer and louder “punishing” sounds.

Yes, venting prompts anger.

Which means that anger and venting can continually cross-pollinate one another. Anger can prompt “venting.” That “venting” will then increase anger by making it “real.” That additional anger may, then, prompt additional “venting.”

That cross-pollination, though, needn’t be negative.

That cross-pollination – when it involves curbing anger – can also be positive.

It can start with the realization that we must curb angry feelings and expressions. Achieving that will involve developing: Humility. An ability to look past pettiness. Self-control. An ability to pause before responding. A capacity to deflect anger with humor and to avoid triggering conversations. An ability to put hurts in perspective by remembering that others are dealing with bigger challenges.

But it can happen. And when that happens, we won’t just be people who “don’t vent.” We will also – because of our new-found skills – be people to whom anger isn’t “real.”

All of which explains the following Rambam: “Anger is an exceedingly bad quality…distance yourself from anger….train yourself to not be angry even when anger is appropriate… become accustomed to not feel anger even for things that ordinarily incite anger.”[2]

The Rambam isn’t just telling us to not act angry.

The Rambam is telling us to not feel angry.” And, as we just saw, we can achieve that by keeping our anger “unreal.”

All of this sheds light on the following incident:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe… Pinchas …reversed my anger...through his zealotry… because of this….I give him my covenant of peace.” [3]

What is this “covenant of peace?” And why was Pinchas rewarded with it?

The answers to these questions lie in reading the following pesukim, which explains why Pinchas was rewarded.

“And Pinchas saw (a sin) and he took a spear in his hand … and he impaled (those who were sinning) … Pinchas avenged… because of this … I give him my covenant of peace.”[4]

Pinchas had performed a zealous act. Such zealous acts – such “ventings” of anger –usually change a person by making his anger “real.”

And we are, indeed, told: “the nature of …of Pinchas killing with his own hands …would normally leave brazen feelings in the heart.” [5]

Pinchas, therefore, needed to be blessed with a “covenant of peace” that would prevent those “brazen feelings” from changing his previously peaceful disposition.

Yes, even the righteous Pinchas - if not for a divine dispensation– would have been tainted by an expression of anger.

Therein lies a lesson about the importance – and the possibility - of making anger “unreal” and of becoming “accustomed to not feeling anger even for things that ordinarily incite anger.”[6]

Yes, to achieve that, we will have to expend much effort on self-betterment.

It’s worth it, though, because one display of anger can destroy important relationships forever. Because one hotheaded decision can create irreversible facts. Because: “Whoever becomes angry, it is as if he worshiped idols.” [7]

Yes, it’s hard to always make anger “unreal.”

It’s far harder, though, to live with a “real” anger that litters life with shattered dreams and relationships.

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be scholar in residence at the Hudson Valley Resort for Sukkos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000

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[1] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999.

[2] Rambam, Hilchos Deos 2:3

[3] Bamidbar 25:12

[4] Bamidbar 25:7-12

[5] Ha’Emek Davar ad. loc.

[6] Rambam loc. cit.

[7] Rambam, Hilchos Deos 2:3, perhaps as per Nedarim 22

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