Sunday, September 02, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Sun., Sept. 2nd)


There is a different type of angry individual-- one who is not as easily brought to fury if something or another is not done exactly as he would like it. But when he gets angry, he gets very angry. He is referred to as "difficult to anger, but difficult to appease" (Pirke Avot 5:11). This too is certainly bad, for many damaging, ruinous things may come out of this anger which cannot be undone. There is a degree of anger less serious than this which is exemplified by someone who does not easily anger. When such a person gets angry, he just gets a little angry. He does not lose his wits, but he does seethe in his anger. This sort of person does less damage than those mentioned above, but he has certainly not reached the trait of innocence. He has not yet even acquired caution. For as long as anger leaves something of an impression in a person he is still said to be an angry person. And there is a level that is even lighter than this. It belongs to the person who finds it hard to get angry. Should such a person get angry, his anger would be short-lived and not the destructive or annihilating type. How long would this person's anger last? -- a moment, and no longer. The very moment anger would start to appear in him, his sensibilities would take over to control it. Our sages referred to this sort of person as "difficult to anger, and easy to appease" (Pirke Avot 5:11). This is certainly a good trait. Human nature is easily incited to anger. A person would be praiseworthy if he could take control of himself so that it would not flair up in him and take him over, and even a slight anger would not stay for any period of time, but would pass quickly. Our sages said, "It is written: 'He hangs the earth upon nothing (b'lee-ma) (Job 26:7)'. That comes to teach us that the world is only maintained through the merits of one who restrains (bo-lame) his mouth when arguing" (Chullin 89a). That is, when the urge to express anger was aroused in him, he gained control of himself, and did not express it. Hillel the Elder exemplified this. He was not fastidious about anything, and was never even provoked to anger. He was utterly innocent of anger. Our sages even warned us against getting angry for reasons of a mitzvah, and warned a teacher not to get angry with a student or a parent with a child. They did not say that one is not to reprimand, because oftentimes you must. But you must reprimand without anger and for the express purpose of setting upon the right path, and what appears to be anger should only be on the surface and not felt (Shabbat 105b). As Solomon said, "Be not hasty in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9); and it says in Job (5:2), "For anger kills the foolish man...." Our sages said: "A man's character comes out in three things: his drinking-glass, his pocket and his anger" (Eruvin 65b).

Jealousy is another instance of foolishness and temporary loss of sensibility. The jealous person gains nothing, and does nothing against the person he is jealous with, but he causes damage to himself. And as the verse we quoted above from Job goes on to say, "Envy slays the simpleton" (Job 5:2). There are those whose foolishness in these things goes so far that they will get depressed, worried and bothered by the fact that an acquaintance becomes successful at something, and their own successes will give them no pleasure. This is what the wise man was referring to when he said, "Jealousy is the very rotting of the bones" (Proverbs 14:30). There are others who would not be quite so bothered or wounded, but they would experience some pain, or at least a certain chilling of the spirit when they would see someone other than someone close and dear to them enjoying some advantage. And they would experience this more if it would happen to someone with whom they do not share an affinity, and even more so if it would happen to a stranger. They might have it within them to offer some encouraging words ora of the fact, but in their hearts they would be hesitant. This is very common. Even though this sort of person cannot be said to be jealous he cannot be said to be innocent of it either, especially when it comes to a competitor's success-- as our sages said, "One craftsman is always hated by another" (Bereshit Rabbah 19:2)-- and especially when that competitor's success is greater than his own.

But you must know and come to realize that, "You cannot even approach within a hairsbreadth something that is reserved for another" (Yoma 38b), and that absolutely everything is from G-d, and emanates from His wondrous counsel and unfathomable wisdom. There is no reason to be bothered by your neighbor's good fortune. This is what Isaiah required for Israel's destined good fortune to be complete. He taught that G-d will precede this good fortune with the cessation of this disgraceful trait: no one will suffer over anyone else's success, and the successful will not have to be secretive for fear of jealousy. He said: "The envy of Efraim shall also depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall not vex Efraim" (Isaiah 11:13). This is the sort of peace and tranquility that the ministering angels enjoy. They are happy in their service, and set in their places, and not one of them is ever jealous of another. They all know the truth and rejoice over the good they enjoy, and they are happy with their lot. Related to jealousy is coveting and desire, which burden your heart till the day you die. As our sages said, "You will not have obtained half of your desires by the time you die" (Kohelet Rabbah 1:13). Desire can be subdivided into two categories, both of which are bad and cause a lot of misfortune: the desire for possessions, and the desire for respect.

Coveting of possessions confines you to the constraints of this world, makes you prey to the entanglements of toil and labor-- as the verse says, "Someone who loves silver will never have enough silver" (Ecclesiastes 5:9)-- and it distracts you from your Divine service. How many prayers are lost and how many mitzvot forgotten-- not to mention Torah study waylaid-- because of over-concern with and struggling for wealth? Our sages said, "It says in the Torah, 'It (the Torah) is not across the seas' (Deuteronomy 30:13) , and it means to say that it is not to be found with those who cross the seas for business concerns" (Eruvin 55a). They also said, "Not all who increase in business become wise" (Pirke Avot 2:5) for such a person exposes himself to many dangers and saps his strength with worry even after he has already earned a lot. And so we learn, "if you increase in wealth you increase in worry" (Pirke Avot 2:7). Such a person often transgresses mitzvot as well as the dictates of common sense. More serious than this is the coveting of respect. It is possible for a person to subdue his yetzer hara for possessions and other such pleasures. But the need for respect is more compelling because it is impossible for you to endure being lower than your friends.

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman