> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > The Guiding Light

The Foolishness of Anger


Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

The Torah Portion ends with the terrible story of ‘the blasphemer’ – the son of an Egyptian man and Jewish woman, who blasphemed God’s name. It is apparent to the commentaries that this man was of a low spiritual standing. Nonetheless, they strive to explain how a person who experienced the Giving of the Torah, and who wanted to be part of the Jewish people, could fall to such depths in such a short time.1

The events that led up to his sin can help to shed light on this question. He was in a tragically unique situation in that he was the only member of the Jewish people who had an Egyptian father. Moreover, each Jew was ascribed to his Tribe, and Tribe membership was determined by the father, yet his father was non-Jewish. He claimed membership of the Tribe of Dan which was his mother’s Tribe, but they refused to accept him. They went to Moses’ Court of Law and he ruled against the blasphemer. Immediately after that he went out, and involved himself in a fight and then blasphemed.2

It is evident that this man had just been subject to an extremely unpleasant experience – being rejected by his own nation, yet his reaction was beyond the pale. It seems that he fell prey to the trait of anger to an extreme extent. It was this anger that caused him to do something so negative that was far beyond anything else that he had done in his lifetime. This is a reminder that anger can be so damaging in that it can bring a person to behave in a manner that would be totally incomprehensible for him in a time of calm.

Of course, the fact that he came to such a heinous sin indicates that he was on a low level regardless, as most people do not approach this low level of behavior. Nonetheless, each person on his own level can be subject to the fires of anger that can cause such harm. Needless to say, the job of overcoming anger is a lifetime task that requires much self-development. Nevertheless, the following story provides one approach that can at least help a person realize how foolish he is when he is taken over by anger.

There was a man who was doing well in every aspect of life, with one exception – he had a terrible temper. It had reached the point where all of his relationships were in danger of being destroyed. After many failed attempts at rectifying this trait, he went to the Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, and told him about his problem. The Steipler told him that he could heal him of his anger, on one condition – that he stare at the Steipler for several minutes without turning away once. He acceded to his seemingly strange request without understanding how it would help. As soon as he started looking at the Steipler, the great Sage started making bizarre facial expressions, reminiscent of those of someone who is in a fit of fury. Needless to say, the Steipler looked bizarre – at the end he told the man that he looked just as ridiculous when he flew into his fits of anger.

This teaches us an important strategy in the battle against negative character traits in general, and anger, in particular. By contemplating how he must appear to others during his times of anger, a person can at least come to a recognition of the foolishness of anger. This will not stop him from getting angry but it may enable to realize that the best approach in times of anger is to not get involved in arguments with one’s wife, children or anyone else, as it is obvious that nothing constructive can come of such interactions. May we merit to extinguish the flames of anger from our lives.

  1. See Sichot Mussar, p.235.
  2. See Rashi, Emor, 24:10 for additional explanations of the events preceding his blasphemy.

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