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Thought for the Day: Anger Justifies Throwing Off All Authority

This is embarrassing, and I am actually embarrassed that I don't feel the embarrassment more keenly.  Normally I would not publicise my aveiros -- especially those between me and my Maker -- but I have a point to make (so there is a good purpose), and I believe that, in any case, it is already well known.  Here goes.... I have felt anger.  Worse, I have gone through periods of my life when it would have been honest to classify me as a רגזן/ill-tempered person.  Sadly, no one finds that surprising.  Here's another non-surprising fact: In all that time, I never went to a church to pray nor receive their holy sacrament.  Not shocking, right?

So how am I supposed to understand the Chazal (Shabbos 105b) that says: who rips clothing or breaks stuff or spends money recklessly out of anger should look at himself as if he has served a false god.  Why?  For that is the ingenuity of the evil inclination; today it tells you to do this or that, tomorrow it tells you to do this or that, until finally it tells you to serve false gods... and you do!
 Maybe I could comfort myself that I never actually ripped clothes, broke stuff, nor spent recklessly out of anger (of course, though... I did, but let's say I could rationalize the rip/break/spend was actually not due to the anger); but the Rambam obliterates that comfort.  The Rambam says that feeling anger is tantamount to serving a false god.  Note well: it is the feeling itself that the Rambam calls serving a false god, not actually doing something about it.  Rashi seems to go the other way.  When the gemara brings a proof text, Rashi says that if a person came across a false god, he would serve it.  What is it?  Is the anger itself serving a false god, or does it just potentially bring one to serve a false god?

Perhaps we can gain some insight from those rioting and counseling others to break the law in response to not liking the outcome of the recent presidential election.  Any of those rioters asked last week what they would have thought of even much milder behaviour had the situation been reversed (which they fully expected)?  They would have said, "What makes America great is that disagreements are settled by our representative democratic process.  They should accept the results and we'll work together."  Yet this week -- when they didn't get what they wanted -- they are rioting.  I heard (on NPR) one rioter giving his justification for igniting a dumpster fire: "I'm angry!"  Whoa... he's angry, so he can do whatever he wants?!

And that's core point.  A person who is angry has lost control.  If he hasn't served false gods, it's only because he had no need.  That's what Rashi meant by "if"; the angry person isn't serving any particular false god, he is simply doing whatever he feels is expedient.  It is not the anger that is the service of the false god, but it is the catalyst that awakens the latent feeling of "I can do whatever I want.  I am the only one in charge.  Me, and no other."  That's what the Rambam is saying; once you feel anger it is tantamount to serving a false god; that is, it is a sign that deep down you feel that no one -- not even HaShem Yisbarach -- has ultimate authority over you.  There is no greater service of false gods than that!

What to do?  So the gemara tells you: if you find yourself tearing clothes, breaking stuff, recklessly spending money out of anger, DO NOT tell yourself "Eh, what's the big deal?  Everyone gets angry sometimes.  I'll be fine."  No and no; that is the ingenuity of the evil inclination, to get you to ignore the signs as it pushes you further and further.  Rather, say Chazal, look a that act due to anger as if you had just walked into a church, eaten from the body of their dead god and drunk from his blood.  It is only by understanding the gravity of the danger that we will take take the steps necessary to rout this most deadly trait out of our system.


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