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Tevet: Can Anger be a Good Thing?

There was once a wealthy man, who had a brewery. He had 24 pots in which he would brew his special brew, and he had many workers and supervisors. Once he saw that there was disorder in his brewery and he became very angry with his supervisors, who were causing him monetary loss and damages. While he was berating his supervisors, he heard that the Ba’al Shem Tov had come and he ran to welcome him.

 “Who are you?” the Ba’al Shem Tov asked him.

“The Rabbi doesn’t recognize me? I am the owner of this brewery,” the man answered.

“If I had not known that you live here, I would not believe that you are the owner,” the Ba’al Shem Tov said. “For the husk of your great anger at your workers enclothed you from head to toe, and you are unrecognizable.”

Most people get angry. But if we would see ourselves from the inside, from a spiritual perspective, we also would not recognize ourselves. That’s me??? How did I lose control over my actions and my words? To where did all my good character traits disappear? All of my holy thoughts? My faith in God and fear of Heaven? How did it all evaporate?

Deep in your heart, you are probably not that surprised that you became angry. Many people have a dormant volcano inside that can erupt at any moment and spew forth bubbling lava. When we zoom in, we understand that anger stems from pride – revealed or concealed. Something does not work well for me, something does not fit my plans or expectations (from myself or others). It hurts my ego and I am not willing to remain silent.

After all, you know that you did not battle your false pride when it was just taking root. You were sure that you knew better than everyone else. You were impatient when things didn’t go as anticipated. You got angry – both at home and outside. Your false pride kept growing until it hijacked all of your soul powers. Finally, it erupted as anger. A numerical allusion: כעס ) anger) = 10 times גאוה (pride).  In other words, anger is the consummate pride, when it fills all the ten soul powers. Yes, a true mess!

The holy Arizal revealed a comforting secret to us. This anger-pride loop can be rectified! True, the Arizal does say, “All the other sins blemish one organ, but anger blemishes the entire soul and makes it unfit. Nonetheless, all that has to be done to remedy this is to fast 151 ( the numeric value of  כעס –anger plus 1) and it will all be behind you.

This may be a bit difficult to accept. What should a person who got angry more than twice in one year do? There aren’t enough days in the year for him to fast!

The story with the Ba’al Shem Tov and the angry brewery owner continues:

“Make sure that from today you do not get angry anymore,” said the Ba’al Shem Tov to the brewery owner. “And I will also accept upon myself not to get angry at any person. Not even at my wagon driver, Alexai. For now I have seen the great blemish caused by anger.”

We can also try to walk in the Ba’al Shem Tov’s footsteps (and in the footsteps of Israel’s sages throughout the generations) and not get angry –ever.

Why then, is the sense of the month of Tevet anger? When the Book of Formation, written by Abraham, defines anger as one of the senses of the soul, this means that it is a positive energy in the soul. The month of Tevet is the time to focus on developing this positive force. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the holy Zohar also teaches us that there is anger called “cursed” and anger called “blessed.”

What is blessed anger and how can we focus on developing it?

There are situations in which it is correct not only to pretend to be angry but to actually get angry. How can we understand this?

Anger is the igniting of the foundation of fire in the soul. On a deeper level, it expresses a burning concern about a certain issue.

Chasidim loves warmth. Coldness is akin to estrangement. In the first generations of Chasidut, the chasidic Rebbes made efforts to bring specifically the most vociferous and burning opponents of Chasidut into their fold. When a person with a hot temper meets the fire of Chasidut, he will certainly transform into an enthusiastic, fascinating chasid.

We see that anger expresses the flame of strong involvement and caring. This is what we have to develop in the month of Tevet. The challenge is to differentiate between what is worthy of our enthusiasm and passion and what we need to reject. Usually, our reactions to different situations can be quite the opposite of what they should be: We easily become angry at a person who has hurt our pride or interests. When it comes to matters of holiness, however, we suddenly have infinite patience and calm.

The month of Tevet comes especially for all those angry at the wrong things and apathetic about the right things. It invites us to turn ourselves around and turn to God. Regarding ourselves, we have to apply our left eye, which recognizes our lowliness. In this manner, we relate – with criticism and great skepticism – toward all the demands of our unquenchable ego. Regarding holiness, we have to be wholeheartedly joyous and enthusiastic, allow our love for holiness to ‘go overboard’ and enjoy it!

And what about anger?

King David, who was the chariot for the attribute of lowliness, already taught us in Psalms 4:5 ‘Be angry and do not sin.” The Talmudic sages explain: “A person should always make his good inclination angry at his evil inclination.” During this month of Tevet, we will learn to be angry at our evil inclination, which incites us to do wrong. We will reject it with enthusiasm, with a warm heart and the fire of battle, as the Alter Rebbe guides us in the Tanya: “And he should be angry at it with a strong voice and anger, to humiliate it…meaning to be angry at the animal soul, which is his evil inclination, in a great voice and anger in his thoughts, to say to it: “You are bad and evil and disgusting and abominable and reprehensible etc. repeating all the names that our sages called it”. Truly, until when will you conceal God’s infinite light from me?

May this be a Tevet full of holy heat.

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