My rabbinic studies included deep dives into emotional states. The rabbi responsible for my studies had one profound caution for me, unrelated to my intellectual abilities – watch out for your anger. At the time, I was confused by the comment. I didn’t see myself as an angry person. But the warning was as important as commenting on my text studies because anger is hazardous.

Having begun my professional life as an attorney, I reflected on how anger is often a tool. The appearance of being angry can be a used for persuasion or change. Anger also antagonizes and can impede compromise. Even indignation, wrapped in righteousness, can deter progress. Anger is not a solution to any challenge or conflict.

Throughout most of the Torah, Moses was steady and focused. Toward the end of his life, Moses was worn down. After Miriam’s death, the miraculous water source that followed her dried up. God directed Moses to speak to a rock to draw out water. Instead, Moses was uncharacteristically angry.  Moses hit the rock and scolded the people. As a result, he was banned from entering the promised land. Moses’ inability to control his outrage was his undoing.

Jewish wisdom teaches that we should control our anger. The Talmud sage Reish Lakish said, “when a person becomes angry, wisdom departs . . .” Anger causes us to lose control, as our rational thinking is defeated. The consequences can be grave.

As a corrective, Deuteronomy offers a divine prescription to refocus our irritation and animosity. Moses remained angry with the Hebrew people who were often stubborn and faithless through forty years of wandering. Yet, in the last days of his life, Moses refocused his energy and suppressed his anger at them. At first, Moses rebuked the people. Then he refocused his rhetoric toward a more positive message. Setting aside acrimony, Moses proposed an oratorical guidebook to a better life: love your neighbors, observe the God-inspired rules, and don’t believe you are the master of all you have received. These are pillars of living Jewishly, relationship, responsibility, reverence, and reserve. With these Middot in mind, we can better mitigate feelings of anger.

I needed this reminder as I lost my temper this past week. I could have self-soothed if I had just remembered Moses’ guidance. Love is more important than discord. Stay disciplined and focused. Don’t let your ego overpower your intellect. There is a higher authority that demands deference. As my teacher had warned me, I needed to be mindful of my anger.

Even if I believe my displeasure to be justified, Torah demands calm. There is no “middle way” when it comes to anger. Otherwise, we may irreparably damage relationships that we should value. Ire and enmity are a negation of our responsibilities. Anger leaves little room for God-liness. And, as Moses’ life teaches us, anger is hazardous.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame