Angry at G-d

A friend of mine wrote this morning about his three experiences with cancer in his immediate family. He was equipped to handle his wife’s bout, abut by the time he had to deal with it for the third time, he tells me that all he felt was anger, anger at G-d. His tefillos that Rosh haShanah he describes as mechanically filling the obligation.

In this week’s parashah, Avraham famously riles at Hashem. Upon being told of Hashem’s plans to destroy the five towns of the Sodom plains, Avraham takes it for granted that there must be someone there worth saving, other than his nephew Lot and his family. “הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה, צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע? Would You even sweep away the righteous person with the evil one?” (18:23) And so it goes for the next two pesuqim, when Avraham still assumes there are 50 people among the five cities who are worth saving. Now, admittedly, he immediately catches himself when he realizes that the assumption was wrong. And Avraham avinu uses less confrontational language during the rest of his attempt negotiation. “וַיַּעַן אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר ‘הִנֵּה-נָא הוֹאַלְתִּי לְדַבֵּר אֶל-ה’, וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר’ — Here, please, I have presumed to speak to Hashem, and I am but sand and ashes.” (v. 27) But that first outburst is recorded, and we are never told it was wrong on Avraham’s part.

Doesn’t Moshe rabbeinu, the most humble man in history, express anger at Hashem when he says “If You would, forgive their sin; and if not, please erase me from the book You have written” (Shemos 32:32)?

It would seem that there is an appropriate time for anger. When someone hears of something that seems like a great wrong, it would be insensitive of him not to respond with outrage. Although it’s interesting to note that in both examples, the injustice would have been aimed at a third party. There is no personal motive in either case. And Hashem even lauds examples of where that anger is directed at Him!

Anger is part of any relationship. We are called into partnership with Him in finishing His creation — of the world, of ourselves, even of expounding the Torah. Can a human being participate in a successful partnership without ever feeling angry at their partner? Marriages are not built on avoiding fighting, but on learning how and when to fight productively.

When someone gets angry at Hashem for something that happens to them, there are a number of positive assumptions motivating that anger.

By getting angry one is participating in a personal connection to the Creator. Hashem is real, I am relating to Him. He is the Cause of something I didn’t want to happen. If as part of a healthy relationship, it could be a positive thing. Far more troubling would be the distance from Hashem implied by apathy.

After all, we are the Benei Yisrael. How did we get the name Yisrael? Because Yaaqov avinu battled an angel, and the angel responded: “וַיֹּאמֶר, ‘לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ–כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל; כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱ-לֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל’ — And he said, ‘No longer will they call you Yaaqov, but rather Yisrael; for you have struggled with G-d and with people, and succeeded.’”

Anger at G-d may seem inappropriate. But not being motivated to struggle with our unanswerable questions about His Actions is far, far worse.

5 thoughts on “Angry at G-d

  1. neither the episode with avraham nor the episode with mosheh are clearly cases where they got angry..
    it’s a real stretch to say so.

    I agree with your thesis though, that anger at HaShem is good—it’s the only time someone’s indignation isn’t misplaced — it is cetainly HaShem who is ultimately responsible..

  2. Yitz: I think the case with Avraham really is. Here are his words: “הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה, צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע? אוּלַי יֵשׁ חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם, בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר; הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא לַמָּקוֹם, לְמַעַן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבָּהּ? חָלִלָה לְּךָ מֵעֲשֹׂת כַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה, לְהָמִית צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע, וְהָיָה כַצַּדִּיק, כָּרָשָׁע; חָלִלָה לָּךְ–הֲשֹׁפֵט כָּל-הָאָרֶץ, לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט.”

    Chalilah Lakh!” twice, no less. Rhetorical questioning. Repetition. I find it very hard to read this as anything but anger. I invite you to offer an alternative translation.

    MP: I think it’s notable that Avraham got angry when the apparent injustice was to yenem, but was able to have bitachon when the pain was his own.

    For most of us, bitachon can’t cover issues like the Holocaust. Either we shelve the problem, perhaps wallpaper that over with bitachon to feel better about simply trying not to think about it. We can’t simply will the bitachon into existence at the moment; such things take from years to a lifetime of work — so how do you respond now? Or, some might dismiss G-d or his role in the matter. I’m applauding a third alternative: Getting angry at Him — but only as one would anyone else one loves. It’s not a denial of that love; it’s a fundamental part of any healthy relationship.

    -mi

  3. Not a positive thing.

    A healthy marriage should include some fighting, and I was suggesting by parallel that a real relationship with the A-lmighty where the other partner is a human ought to be similar.

    But marriage where one spouse wants divorce generally isn’t considered a healthy one.

    If I may suggest a textbook (and therefore perhaps borderline trite) suggestion:

    This fellow came to (Rav Yisrael, R’ Wolbe, the Meshekh Chokhmah, etc… depending on the teller) and said he wanted to give his wife a get.
    “Why?”
    “I don’t love her.”
    “You don’t love her? Or you don’t feel any love for her?”
    Feeling somewhat confused — “I don’t feel any love for her.”
    “So then love her all the more. Look for opportunities to give more of yourself to her.”

    We often think of actions as expressions of feeling. One of the foundations of mussar, as well as of behavior mod, is that feelings also arise from action. Given that we have all experienced such feedback loops, there should be no surprise there.

    -micha

    PS: I also discuss the idea in Love, part I.

And your thoughts...?