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Thought for the Day: Becoming Stupid and Reckless when Angry; Punishment or Reality?

Let's review: Anger: bad, really bad.

One of the things that happens with anger is that the angry person loses his wisdom and common sense.  (Which is a more politically correct way of saying that when you get mad, you get stupid and reckless.  We all know how important it is to me to be politically correct.)  The question is, though, whether that loss is a punishment for being angry or just the nature of the beast -- that anger is simply incompatible with wisdom.

Let's make that more concrete and less philosophical, ok?  My three year old granddaughter grabbed a spray bottle of Simple Green, a relatively non-toxic all purpose cleaner right before dinner.  I told her to put it down.  She waited till I washed for bread and knew I couldn't talk (they're very clever, especially when they are pushing the envelope), grabbed the spray bottle again and sprayed herself square in the face.  I grabbed the bottle and then her... her littlehands immediately flew back to protect you pahtch zone, but to no avail.  The pahtch was a punishment; meant, of course, to prevent her from disobeying and spraying herself with, chas v'shalom, something worse.  Any eye irritation was not punishment, just the nature of spraying herself in the eyes with cleanser.  (I, of course, was not angry, just really scared.  She is and was fine, Baruch HaShem.)

So... is the stupidity and reckless behaviour that comes with anger a result of spraying your soul in the face with toxic waste, or is it a pahtch from HaShem?  What difference does it make?  After all, since we know "Anger: bad, really bad", just don't get angry.  Right... let me know how that works for you.

So here's one practical difference:  Can I work on my anger issues just by becoming wiser, or do I need to work on eradicating the anger so I won't get punished with removal of whatever paltry sum of wisdom that I have managed to amass?  (The terms "paltry sum" and "amass" don't really seem to go together, do they?)  If the former, then it doesn't matter if I learn gemara, halacha, mishna, etc; just increasing the intensity and/or quantity of learning will leave less room for anger.  If the latter, though, I better really stop up the learning of mussar and maybe practice calming exercises.

Here's another difference: If anger is a punishment, then getting angry for the sake of a mitzvah should not incur that punishment.  On the other hand, if it is just reality, then I better carefully consider getting angry even for the sake of a mitzvah.  Like running into a burning building to save a baby... you better be darn sure there is a baby in that conflagration (and not, for instance, a cat), because you are going to get burned.  It may very well be worth weeks of painful recovery to save that baby, but probably not worth it to save a cat.

So what's the answer?  I know you'll be shocked... but it's a מחלוקת; a matter of dispute among our sages of all ages.  The only prudent route is to be stringent like both opinions.  Increase intensity and quantity of learning all topics, but don't forget the daily mussar.  Also, the Ramban does give tool that he says is extraordinarily effective: always speak softly.

Interestingly, I have found that learning the intense debate among our sages regarding whether loss of wisdom is a punishment or simply that Torah wisdom and anger are incompatible has been very effective in calming me down.  In learning the arguments, one see with ever more clarity just how shockingly bad anger really is.

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