Sharing Torah Insights

Anger Management

Posted on כ״ה במרחשון ה׳תש״ע (November 12, 2009) | in Chayei Sarah | by

This week’s parsha has the interesting story of Avraham sending his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak. At the beginning of the story, Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he will not take a wife for Yitzchak from the Canaanim, but rather that he will go find Yitzchak a wife from Avraham’s birth place in Aram Naharaim.

This is a very interesting request because we know that the Torah was unimpressed by Betuel and Lavan, Rivka’s father and brother, and described them unflatteringly. We say in the Haggadah:

צֵא וּלְמַד, מַה בִּקַּשׁ לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת לְיַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ–שֶׁפַּרְעֹה הָרָשָׁע, לֹא גָזַר אֵלָא עַל הַזְּכָרִים; וְלָבָן בִּקַּשׁ לַעְקֹר אֶת הַכֹּל

Come and learn, what did Lavan the Aramean try to do to Yaakov our father – That the evil Pharoah only decreed against the males, but Lavan tried to uproot it all.

This question is made even stronger by the fact that Avraham was living at the time near Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, his three friends who had helped him win the war of the four kings versus the five kings.

The Abarbanel asks this question, and first answers it with a pragmatic answer. Hashem had promised Israel to Avraham and his descendants, not to the Canaanim. If Yitzchak married a Canaanite woman, the Jewish people would forever be tied to the cursed Canaanim (see the story of Noach) and the Canaanim would end up inheriting the land they otherwise were not due.

This answer however, does not deal with what was different about Avraham’s far-away, idol-worshiping family that made them worthy to marry their daughter/sister to Yitzchak. To answer this question, the Abarbanel cites an amazing answer given by the Ran.

The Ran writes that there are two types of mitzvot and aveirot. There are those that leave an impression on both the soul and the body — like those of actions or character traits, and those that leave an imprint only on the soul — like those of belief.

The sins that leave an impression on both the soul and body also leave a lasting impression on future generations. The Ran brings as examples the attributes of hatred, anger and jealousy.  Indeed, we often hear how abused children are more likely to become abusive parents themselves.

The sins of belief, however, are not passed on to the next generation in the same way. It is instead possible for children to reject the beliefs of their parents (as we saw happen with Avraham breaking the idols of his father Terach) and take on a new, more upright path in life.

The Ran says that the failings of the Canaanim were in the first category. They had bad character traits and while they may have been able at times to determine right from wrong, they more often let their emotions reign supreme.

Lavan and his family were evil in that they worshiped idols.  They did not, however, evidence weakness in controlling their emotions and actions.

The lesson here is that while it is obviously preferable to avoid all types of sins, working on and having a good character is of paramount importance and functions as the prerequisite to true spiritual growth.

The Ramban, in the opening to his famous letter to his son, echoes this idea beautifully.

שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ, וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ (משלי א ח)
תִּתְנַהֵג תָּמִיד לְדַבֵּר כָּל דְּבָרֶיךָ בְּנַחַת, לְכָל אָדָם וּבְכָל עֵת, וּבַזֶּה תִּנָּצֵל מִן הַכַּעַס, שֶׁהִיא מִדָּה רָעָה לְהַחְטִיא בְּנֵי אָדָם. וְכֵן אָמְרוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ ז”ל (נדרים כב ע”א): כָּל הַכּוֹעֵס – כָּל מִינֵי גֵיהִנּוֹם שׁוֹלְטִים בּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (קהלת יא י): “וְהָסֵר כַּעַס מִלִּבֶּךָ, וְהַעֲבֵר רָעָה מִבְּשָׂרֶךָ”. וְאֵין “רָעָה” אֶלָּא גֵיהִנּוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי טז ד): “וְגַם רָשָׁע לְיוֹם רָעָה”.
וְכַאֲשֶׁר תִּנָּצֵל מִן הַכַּעַס, תַּעֲלֶה עַל לִבְּךָ מִדַּת הָעֲנָוָה, שֶׁהִיא מִדָּה טוֹבָה מִכָּל מִדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי כב ד): “עֵקֶב עֲנָוָה, יִרְאַת ה'”.

Hear, my son, the instruction of your father and don’t forsake the teaching of your mother (Mishlei 1:8). Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger, a serious character flaw which causes people to sin. As our Rabbis said (Nedarim 22a):Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom as it is says in (Koheles 12:10), “Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from your flesh.” “Evil” here means Gehinnom, as we read (Mishlei 16:4): “…and the wicked are destined for the day of evil.” Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart.This radiant quality is the finest of all admirable traits (see Avodah Zarah 20b), (Mishlei 22:4), “Following humility comes the fear of Hashem.”

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One Response to “Anger Management”

  1. Andrea Rubinstein says:

    Thanks so much Liron! getting home later than usual this afternoon and scrambling to get into Shabbos mode. This really set the tone. Very Nice indeed.

    [Reply]

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