The sages of our tradition were very wary of anger. “Rabbah, son of Rav Huna, said: “When one loses his temper, even the Divine Presence is unimportant in his eyes” [Nedarim 22b]. While not denying the possibility that righteous anger can exist, repeatedly the Rabbis warn against anger, which is like a boiling pot that overspills and scalds everyone nearby.
Anger exemplifies the wisdom of what Emerson teaches: “Our moods don’t believe each other.” We say things, and often do things, in anger that we would never do in calmer moments. Yet words spoken in anger cannot be recalled; forgiven perhaps, but rarely forgotten. Keeping a leash on our fury is one of the most important disciplines of character a human being can develop.
Anger arises within us but is like an invader, a force we do not control. We can learn to avoid reacting out of anger however, knowing that if we “count to 10” our words will be wiser and truer to our deep character. Anger blots out the sun, even, as Rabbah teaches, the Divine Presence. Wait out the rage until the light streams back in and your life will be better in the coming year.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).