Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #21, “Slowness to anger”
“When a person is angry he forgets the Torah he studied.”
Anger consumes a person not just emotionally and robs him of good sense, but suspends his Torah knowledge.
“Anyone who gets angry, hell controls him.”
From these two Talmudic statements we learn that anger distorts a person’s mind, inner peace and reputation. A person cannot be living in hell and also acquire the Torah.
Note: It does not say that a person who is impoverished or is seriously ill forgets his Torah knowledge. External conditions do not retard the study of Torah. Anger is an inner condition. It may respond to external challenges, but it is boils up inside.
Also note: Pirkei Avot does not disqualify anger altogether. It approves slowness to anger as an aid in the acquisition of Torah.
Anger per se is sometimes warranted, provided that it is not reflexive, not instantaneous, not “flying off the handle.” If anger is reached after slow deliberation, there is a place for anger.
Rabbi Israel Salanter said that one should never be angry, but that sometimes it is necessary to show anger. A Torah student is not a wimp. If as a leader, a pedagogue or a parent, a Torah student needs to show anger, it must be carefully developed, with due consideration for its justification, application and timing. This difficult balance aids in the acquisition of the Torah.
The 21st way to acquire the Torah: Slowness to Anger.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control; Way #17, Limited Pleasure; Way #18, All nighters; Way #19, Limited Conversation; Way #20, Limited Entertainment