Menuchas haNefesh

Picture being in a box. A large box, plenty of room to walk around, but very much with a “boxy” feel. There is a pervasive smell of tar; the box itself is wood sealed with tar. There’s a constant background smell of animals and food as well. Your rocking, floating on the water. The lighting is poor, barely present, and what’s there tends to be slivers of color — light coming through a small crystal. And you’re constantly busy, caring for all those animals. Running from one to the next. Now picture living that for a year. Finally, you’re free!The description in the Torah for the end of the mabul (flood) heavily uses conjugations of the word “menuchah”. The protagonist’s name — Noach. The ark comes to rest on the mountain — “vatanch hateivah”. The dove seeks “mano’ach” — a resting place. The language calls our attention to the event as an archetype of menuchah.However, that’s the calm after the storm. (Quite literally.) How does one achieve menuchah during the storm?

Also, the trope mark “munach” is used in the beginning of a phrase, it’s a preparatory note. Implied in that choice of name is that they found the word “menuchah” implying not only an end, but a preparation of the thing to come.

The berakhah on tefillin is “… Who commanded us lehani’ach tefillin — to rest tefillin”. Tefillin can only be worn while we are in the proper frame of mind. (Which is why today, when shorter attention spans on the norm, we wear it for the minimum time necessary.) Menuchah connotes a reflective pause.

This is also implied by what it is “menuchas hanefesh” asks us to put to rest. The “nefesh”. There are many words in Judaism for soul (just as there are many words in Innuit Eskimo languages for snow, allegedly). Neshamah implies lofty spirituality. Ru’ach connotes one’s will. Nefesh, though, is something we share with animals. One can’t consume blood for “the blood is of the nefesh”. Nefesh is our more primitive, mammalian, selves.

And one can’t really explore the meaning of menuchah in Judaism without looking as Shabbos. The most common text used for Qiddush on Shabbos morning is composed of two paragraphs. One ends “… and on the seventh day He rested — vayinafash“. From the word nefesh. The second, “… for on six days Hashem made the heaven and the earth, the sea and everything within them, vayanach — and He rested — on the seventh day.” Menuchas hanefesh, stepping back from the storms of life to get an opportunity to reflect, defines Shabbos. The nefesh might be a raft tossed about by the waves, but I, I can be steady.

I therefore suggested that menuchas hanefesh does not mean not feeling anger, stress, or the other things that break our calm. If nothing else, such a definition would make the problem too large to tackle. Rather, it’s to be able to find the point of quiet and watch the emotion. The anger is there, the stress is there, but not overwhelming our ability to think.

That is Shabbos. That is lehani’ach tefillin.

So how do we achieve it?

1- A hispa’alus, taken from Hallel:
“Shuvi nafshi limnuchaychi — Return my soul to my rest
Ki Hashem gamal alaychi — for G-d provides support upon me.”

Also, looking at the quote, one can glean tactics for achieving menuchas hanefesh. The practices already introduced — visualization (see opening) and quote-based hispa’alus — are themselves tactics.

Note some of the implications:
Shuvi – return: I have been there before.

Which brings us to tactic #2:

2- If one pays attention to moments of calm, one can capture the feeling and more readily reproduce it. I’m not talking about intellectualizing the process. Just that through awareness, one can recall the feeling on a gut

Nafshi — my nefesh. Who is the “I” who has a nefesh? I need not be the storms of my soul.

This is actually quite difficult. At the moment of being overwhelmed, how does one decide not to be overwhelmed? There’s a Catch-22 (or bootstrapping problem)in requiring a balanced mind in order to work on balancing one’s mind.

3- Limnuchaychi — to my rest. I own it.

Shabbos observance (or breaking for minchah, mid-day; the name isn’t quite derived from “menuchah” but if one dismisses the notion of coincidence…) gives one experiences of calm to return to.

4- Ki Hashem gamal alaychi — For Hashem provides support upon me.

Bitachon, trust that Hashem has a purpose, will allow me not to needlessly fight that which shouldn’t be fought. Yes, things that need resisting are challenges I must face. But too often we’re stressed about things we can’t control — solely because we don’t realize these scenarios serve their purpose as well.

5- Realize that every storm does have an end. And that menuchah after the storm is when we can prepare for the next one (and there will be a “next one”) — thereby preventing that overwhelming feeling when it hits.

Ma’avir al Midosav

Whoever is “ma’avir al midosav”, ma’avirin lo, they pass over his sins for him. As it says, ‘… forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression’ (Mikha 7:18). To whom does He forgive iniquity? To the one who remits transgression.- Rosh Hashanah 17a

With such a promise, we would surely be motivated to master this middah, “ma’avir al midosav”! But what exactly does it mean?

The first definition will look at is provided by Rashi (ad loc). It’s one who does not mete out judgment to those who mistreat him. If so, this middah is not only critical to improving our personal fate, but a key factor in causing — and therefore ending — the current exile.

Rav Yochanan said: “Yerushalaim was only destroyed because they judged by Torah law.” What, should they have practiced trial by torture? Rather say: That they upheld their judgments by Torah law, and did not go beyond the letter of the law.

– Bava Metzia 30b

They tell a story about a chassid who was quite wealthy. Every year he would give his rebbe a share of his income, and every year was more prosperous than the last. One year he came to see the rebbe, and found out that his rebbe wasn’t in. His rebbe had gon to see his own rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin.

This was an education for the chassid. “My rebbe too has a rebbe? Then why should I be giving my money to this rebbe? Shouldn’t I instead give the money to the Chozeh? Wouldn’t that be the greater berakhah?” And so he did.

Very quickly, the chassid’s fortunes turned for the worse. The chassid was quite perplexed, being quite certain of his reasoning, so he went to ask of the Chozeh of Lublin for advice and an explanation.

The Chozeh answered, “As long as you weren’t exacting about whom you gave your tzedaqah too, Hashem wasn’t too exacting about whether or not you deserved the money he gave you. Once you started taking careful score about who got the money, Hashem began examining your actions carefully as well.”

This points out the obvious justice in our first quote. It’s measure-for-measure, being repaid in kind, for someone who forgives others to be forgiven by G-d. Rav Dessler (Michtav meiEliyahu vol V pg 70) writes that in addition to this, there is a second reason why heaven “passes over his sins”. Someone who is ma’avir al midosav connects himself to the community. He therefore is judged as part of that community, which is always more meritorious than having to stand on his own.

Rav Dessler continues by contrasting ma’avir al midosav with situations when we are called upon to act in a manner that is at the opposite extreme. We are obligated to hate evil. However, Tosafos write (Pesachim 113b “shera’ah”) that one still may not reach a point of “sin’ah gemurah” (complete hatred). Complete hatred would engender hatred in return, and he is presumably not permitted to hate you!

Another example, Pinechas, when he saw a leader of Shim’on acting immorally with a Midianite princess, is called a qana’i, an extremist, “beqan’o es qin’asi — when he avenged My vengeAnce”. Since he did so, he got a berakhah of shalom. However, the word is spelled with a broken vav; the complete letters spell only “shaleim”, whole. In the short run, his actions were shaleim, whole, performed for the right reasons. In the long term, this will bring shalom, but in the short term, there is no peace without someone being willing to be ma’avir al midosav.

This is directly connected to a point raised in an earlier entry on “Rights and Duties” (updated version 11/25/2009). American law is based on the Lockian notion that the purpose of law is to protect rights. Halakhah, while it occasionally directly implies the existence of rights (e.g. when speaking of “stealing sleep” or “stealing knowledge”), is based on a language of issur (prohibition) or chiyuv (obligation). Often, the pragmatic law is identical; the thief violates the law whether we phrase it as his abrogating his neighbor’s right to property, or as his violating the prohibition against theft. However, there is a difference in attitude:

Rights are about protecting “my own” from being encroached upon by others. Rather than looking at what I’m supposed to do, the system is set up to encourage me to make sure I got mine. From which the current culture of entitlement, and the insane abuse of tort law, are a minor step — “Do I still got mine?” to “How can I get mine?” The culture is set up to encourage such a progression.

But doesn’t a duty-based law carry its own dangers? If I am to only worry about the other getting theirs, but to be ma’avir al midosai, to forego my rights and not always demand justice when it comes to myself, aren’t I inviting myself to be abused? Does the Torah really expect up to be a nation of doormats, allowing ourselves to be stepped upon and mistreated?

Rabbi Eliezer once went before the ark [as chazan on a fast day enacted because of a drought] and recited twenty-four berakhos and was not answered. Rabbi Aqiva went [as chazan] after him and said, “Avinu malkeinu — our Father, our King, we have no king other than You! Our Father, our King – for Your sake have compassion for us!” and it started raining. “The rabbis started speaking negatively [about Rabbi Eliezer]. A Heavenly voice emerged and declared, “It is not because this one [Rabbi Akiva] is greater than that one [Rabbi Eliezer], but because this one is ma’avir al midosav and this one is not ma’avir al midosav.”

– Ta’anis 25b

Rav Yisrael Salanter (Or Yisrael #28) elaborates. If being a ma’avir al midosav is so important, wouldn’t that mean that Rabbi Aqiva greater than Rabbi Eliezer after all? Rather, there are two equally valid approaches to serving Hashem. Rabbi Aqiva, being from Beis Hillel, was ma’avir al midosav. Rabbi Eliezer was a member of Beis Shammai (Tosafos Shabbos 130b), and therefore stood upon strict justice (Shabbos 31a). Both approaches are equally valid, and until the ruling that we are to follow Beis Hillel, both Rabbi Aqiva’s approach and Rabbi Eliezer’s were equal paths to holiness. However, at a time when we can’t stand under the scrutiny of justice, it’s Rabbi Aqiva’s approach that is more appropriate.

This is akin to what we already saw in the words of Rav Dessler — there is a time for qana’us and a time to be ma’avir al midosav. Knowing when to use each is knowing whether it is time to seek shalom in the short-term, or to work for longer-term goals.

Until now, we’ve looked at the subject based upon Rashi’s definition, that the issue is knowing when not demanding strict justice is the greater good. However, this definition is different than one found in the actual gemara. The gemara (Yuma 23a) says it’s someone who forgives others when he is slighted.

With this definition, it’s not about an antonym to strict justice, but an antonym to neqamah, revenge. “The path of tzadiqim: They are shamed, but do not shame, listen to their insult and do not reply, and are content [even] in their struggles. About them the verse says, ‘And His beloved are like the emergence of the sun in its strength.’ (Shofetim 5:31)” (Shabbos 88b)

Another difference is that justice is objective, whereas being slighted is subjective, depending upon the sensitivities of the person. The Chokhmas Manoach brings this perspective to our gemara about the difference — and yet equal value — of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva. Rabbi Aqiva was more of the ma’avir al midosav because he was raised non-observant. He overcame his more natural middos — ma’avir al midosav in a literal sense.

How do we explain Rashi’s willingness to give a different translation to that of the gemara? Perhaps they are not so much defining ma’avir al midosav as giving examples of the behavior of someone who mastered this middah rather than the middah itself. In other words, if we view ma’avir al midosav as an attitude, we cannot see it directly in others, and therefore we look at how the person acts. The actual definition, therefore, would be a character trait that would motivate not demanding exact justice and standing on one’s rights and also motivate forgiving slights to one’s honor. We also know from Rav Dessler that this trait is one that mirrors its reward, getting forgiven for one’s sins, and that it unites one with the community. Last, as per the Chokhmas Manoach, it requires assuming a perspective other than the one that comes naturally.

What’s the difference between a rights-based morality and a duty-based one? The rights-based morality teaches one to guard their own “domain”, whereas duties force one to constantly guard everyone else’s. Such a person is lead to be ma’avir al midosav, because he is constantly focusing his decisions on what others stand to lose or gain.

A ma’avir al midosav, then, is someone who is able to assume the perspective of another. He is capable of forgiving slights when he can see the perspective of the person who made them. He would choose to sacrifice his inch, even if it’s coming to him by law, to avoid the cost of a foot to the other party. The ma’avir al midosav is not the one who seeks compromise or self-sacrifice, but rather one who seeks the win-win scenario, one that maximizes the gain for all.

Rabbi Dessler collected some advice for someone starting to develop this middah. As he cautions, his advice isn’t quite mastery of the middah for its own sake, but it does provide the habits from one can build. There are 10 such actions, perhaps suitable as a basis for a va’ad on the subject. See the page image, or (if necessary) my English translation.

Anger and the Golden Mean

(I invite people to visit my analysis of the Orchos Tzadiqim’s psychological model. Among the points I discuss is the relationship between dei’os and middos. In painful brevity: a dei’ah is a feature of one’s psyche — which in turn is something performed by the soul. All people have the same set of dei’os. A middah, which literally means measure, is the dimensions it assumes in a particular person’s makeup. I believe the Rambam uses the term dei’ah in this sense.)

When it comes to anger, the question of whether one should seek the middle path is more complex. The Rambam’s Hilkhos Dei’os seems to contradict itself — which is impossible, given the attention he paid every word in the code. A contradiction in two adjacent chapters is beyond unlikely. So the question is finding the subtle nuance that distinguishes the two laws.

Emanuel O’Levy allowed Jon Baker to place his colloquial translation of the first three books of Maimonides’ code on line. So, even though it’s a far looser translation than I’d like, it’s available for easy cut-n-paste so I’m using it.

From Chapter I:

3) There are two opposite extremes to each and every temperament (dei’ah), one of which will not be a good mannerism and which is not fitting to follow or to teach to oneself. If one finds that one’s nature is tending to one of these temperaments or is being directed by one of them, or that one has already learnt about it and accustomed oneself to it, then one should return to good and go in the ways of good – this is the way of the upright.

4) The way of the upright is [to adopt] the intermediate characteristic of each and every temperament that people have. This is the characteristic that is equidistant from the two extremes of the temperament of which it is a characteristic, and is not closer to either of the extremes. Therefore, the first Sages commanded that one’s temperaments should always be such, and that one should postulate on them and direct them along the middle way, in order that one will have a perfect body. How is this done? One should not be of an angry disposition and be easily angered, nor should one be like a dead person who does not feel, but one should be in the middle – one should not get angry except over a big matter about which it is fitting to get angry, so that one will not act similarly again. Likewise, one should not have lust except for those things which the body needs and without which cannot survive, as it is written, “The righteous eat to satisfy his soul”. Similarly, one should not labour at one’s business, but one should obtain what one needs on an hourly basis, as it is written, “A little that a righteous man has is better, et cetera”. Nor should one be miserly or wasteful with one’s money, but one should give charity according to what one can spare, and lend as fitting to whoever needs. One should not be [excessively] praised or merry, and nor should one be sorrowful or miserable, but one should be happy for all one’s days in satisfaction and with a pleasant expression on one’s face. One should apply a similar principle to the other temperaments – this is the way of the wise.

5) Any man whose temperaments are intermediate is called wise. One who is particular with himself and moves away from the middle ways to either extreme is called pious. What does this mean? One who distances himself from pride by moving to its complete opposite of meekness is called pious, for this is a characteristic of piety. But if he distances himself only half-way and becomes humble he is called wise, for this is a characteristic of wisdom. The first pious people kept their temperaments from the middle ways and towards one of the extremes – one temperament they would bias one way, and another the other way [and as appropriate], but this is going beyond what the law requires.

6) We are commanded to go in these middle ways, the good and upright ways, as it is written, “And walk in His ways, et cetera”. As an explanation of this commandment, we have learnt that just as God shows mercy so also should we show mercy, that just as God is merciful so also should we be merciful, and that just as God is holy so also should we be holy. It was with this in mind that the first Prophets called the Almighty with the Attributes of: long-suffering, magnanimous, righteous, upright, faultless, mighty, strong, et cetera, in order to make it known that these are good and upright ways, and that one is obligated to accustom oneself to them, and to make one’s ways as similar to them as possible.

7) How should one regulate oneself with these temperaments so that one is directed by them? One should do, change one and change one’s actions which one does according to the intermediate temperaments and always go back over them, until such actions are easy for one to do and will not be troublesome for one, and until such temperaments are fixed in one’s soul. This way is known as the way of the Lord, for the reasons that the Creator has been called by them and that they are the intermediate characteristics which we are obligated to adopt. This is what Abraham taught his sons, as it is written, “For I know him, that he will command his children, et cetera”. One who goes in this way will bring upon himself good and blessings, as it is written, “…that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of him”.

So, using the terminology I suggested, the Rambam is saying that the Chakham should aspire for middos in which each dei’ah is at the middle point between the extremes. The key tool recommended (so far) for doing so is habituation.

It also seems that this middle is not only being described as half of each conflicting dei’ah, but a mixture, a synthesis, of both. So that a person is using all of the skills given to him as an image of G-d.

From Chapter II:

3) There are some intermediate temperaments which one is forbidden to have, but one should adopt one of the extremities of such temperaments. One of these is the temperament of haughtiness. It is not good [enough] for one to be just modest, but one should be meek, and one’s spirits should be low. Therefore, concerning Moses our Teacher it is written, “…very meek”, and not just, “meek”. Therefore, the Sages commanded that one should be very meek. They said further that anyone who raises his spirits is denying the essence, as it is written, “…then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God”. They also said that all those with haughty airs should be excommunicated, even if they are only slightly haughty. It is the same with anger, which is an extremely bad temperament and from which it is fitting for one to distance oneself as far as its opposite extreme. One should teach oneself not to get angry, even over something about which it would be normal to get angry. If one wanted to instill fear in one’s sons or members of one’s household, or in the community if one was their leader, and one wants to be angry at them in order that they will return to the good [ways], then one should show them that one is being angry at them just to correct them, and, when displaying such anger, one should bear in mind that one is like a man who is similar to being angry, and that one is not really angry. The first Sages said that if one is angry, it is as if one has worshiped idols. They also said that when a man gets angry, then if he was wise his wisdom leaves him, and if he was a prophet his prophecy leaves him, and that the life of angry people is not [really] a life. Therefore, they commanded us to distance ourselves from anger until one is accustomed to not getting any angry feelings at even annoying things. This is the good way. The way of the righteous is to be humble without being humbled, not to answer back when disgraced, to do things out of love and to be joyous in suffering. Scripture says about them, “…but let them who love Him be as the sun when it comes out in its might”.

The Rambam appears to be contractictin himself. In 1:4, he advises “one should not get angry except over a big matter about which it is fitting to get angry.” But in chapter two , anger is comparable to idolatry, and to be avoided in all circumstances!

The Lechem Mishnah understands the Rambam to be recommending the Middle Path in all cases. However, since anger and egotism are so dangerous, one end of the spectrum is far more hazardous than the other. Therefore, the Chassid chooses to err on the side of caution, and lean toward avoiding them rather than stay in the ideal, the middle. The Lechem Mishnah makes a linguistic note. By most dei’os, the Rambam refers to pursuing the beinonis. But here the middle is described as emtza’is — it is not the middle distance between both extremes, but the mean taking into account the severity of either side. This distinction is the point of chapter 2.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:54) explains the seeming contradiction differently. The Rambam’s apparently conflicting advice parallels that of our sages.

In Ta’anis 4, the gemara declares that any talmid chakham who is not as tough as iron is no talmid chakham. However, in Pirqei Avos (5:11) we are told that a chassid is “difficult to anger and easy to appease.” According to Rabbein Gershom Me’or haGolah, the advice is as follows. If a teacher believes he is right and stands up and fights for his position, but then backs down, people will assume he wasn’t as sure as he claimed or realized he was wrong, and is using the anger to mask his incompetence. He will thereby cause people not to follow the truth, his original position, and it will lead them to dismiss his wisdom in the future. And thus, we till not be seen as a teacher (“he is no talmid chakham“). In Avos, it’s discussing the case of someone who actually made an obvious error. And therefore it would be wrong to become angry and defend his error. Anyone who sees him stand up for the truth above his own honor would realize, and think more of him.

Similarly, Rav Moshe understands the Rambam 1:4 as speaking of getting angry over important matters, so that his display and attitude prevent their repetition. However, when one can’t readily see the error, the anger just seems inane and doesn’t help anyone. In this case, one should follow the advice in chapter 2, and avoid anger.

Unfortunately, I was unable to satisfy my own frustration at understanding the Rambam since I couldn’t fit either suggestion into his words.

The Rambam’s exact words in 2:3 are “אלא יתרחק עד הקצה האחר — but he should distance himself until the other extreme”. Not “el – toward”, but “ad – until”. That makes it hard for me to embrace the Lechem Mishnah’s interpretation that the Rambam was saying that one finds an emtza, weighted average based on the evil of anger or egotism even when compared to the opposite extremes. And with respect to modesty, the Rambam even writes “מאוד מאוד הוי שפל רוח — be of very very low ego.”

Rav Moshe’s position assumes that the two are discussing different situations. When anger is productive, in standing up for something right that others may not otherwise realize is important, then one needs the middle path. But when someone makes a mistake, standing up for one’s error is misplaced, and therefore one should avoid anger in the extreme. However, the Rambam discusses general advice, what should be someone’s approach to the dei’ah in general. In one chapter, follow G-d and assume the middle/synthesis. In the other, avoid anger altogether because it’s tantamount to idolatry.

A possible resolution that seemed more straightforward to me is suggested by the Rambam’s words (also from 1:4). Obviously, advice about how to be a good Jew carries more weight when informed by the Lechem Mishnah’s knowledge or Rav Moshe’s, but this is how one person naively read the Rambam’s approach(es) to anger:

Any man whose temperaments are intermediate is called wise. One who is particular with himself and moves away from the middle ways to either extreme is called pious. What does this mean? One who distances himself from pride by moving to its complete opposite of meekness is called pious, for this is a characteristic of piety. But if he distances himself only half-way and becomes humble he is called wise, for this is a characteristic of wisdom.

Maimonides is defining two possible paths: the Chakham (Wise), and the Chassid (Pious). Both laudable ideals. In the majority of chapter 1, he addresses the path he himself took, that of the Chakham — finding the middle. In chapter 2, when he discusses modesty he clearly describes the Chassid approach. It would seem the same would be true of his discussion of anger in chapter 2.

(Similarly, the gemara in Ta’anis speaks of the iron-strength of the talmid chakham, whereas the mishnah in Avos describes the person as a chassid.)

Another possibility is that chapter 2 isn’t focusing on an ideal, but rather on how to cure a defect in one’s middos. From the previous law in that chapter:

2) How do they cure? They tell someone who is of an angry disposition to establish himself, and that if he is hit or cursed he should not react, and he should follow this way until his angry disposition has left him. If he was haughty, he should subject himself to a lot of disgrace and sit low down, and should dress in torn rags which are a discredit to normal clothes, and do similar things until his haughtiness has left him and he returns to the middle way, which is the good way. Once he has returned to the middle way he should follow it for the rest of his life. Other temperaments should be treated in this manner – if one was far over to one extreme, one should move oneself to the other extreme and accustom oneself to it for a long time, until one has returned to the good way, which is the intermediate characteristic that each and every temperament has.

Contrast that to the advice in 1:6, that the person “is obligated to accustom oneself to them” and 1:7, “One should do, change one and change one’s actions which one does according to the intermediate temperaments and always go back over them.”

One can combine these notions. The ideal, as described in chapter 1, is to follow the middle path in everything. To live that ideal is described in laws 6 and 7 (above) as “one is obligated to accustom oneself to them” and “One should do, change one and change one’s actions which one does according to the intermediate temperaments and always go back over them”. Habituation.

The Chassid ַadapts that situationally. When speaking of the more severe possible errors, one can’t rely on waiting for habit to set in. Instead we focus on a “cure procedure”, to tend to the other extreme. Training the vine by pulling it beyond where you want it to settle.

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.


Do not hate your brother in your heart;לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ;
you should surely rebuke your neighbor,הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֨יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ
and do not carry a sin because of him.וְלֹֽא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃

– Vayiqra 19:17

There are a number of questions about this verse that need to be addressed before we can understand it.

First, is this verse describing one mitzvah, or two? Is it a commandment to rebuke others rather than hating them in one’s heart? Or are they two distinct mitzvos — hatred and rebuke being less related. On the one hand, they do appear in the same verse. On the other, there is no conjunctive between them telling us a kind of relationship Hashem would give them.

Second, is the prohibition against hating someone in one’s heart, and if one expresses it, they didn’t violate the verse? Does Hashem mean “don’t hate him, even if only in one’s heart”? Of course, if the two are connected, then the “in your heart” is in distinction to a verbal rebuke.

Last, “do not carry a sin because of him”? Because one didn’t stop him from sinning by rebuking him one shares in future sin? Or perhaps are we talking about the sin of hating him?

The Rambam (Seifer haMitzvos, lav #302; Hilkhos Dei’os 6:5-6) understands the prohibition of hating another in one’s heart to be specifically in one’s heart. It is interesting to note that in interpersonal mitzvos, the Rambam refers to other Jews as “qetzaseinu — our part”, so that here he is literally giving the prohibition of one part of the Jewish People hating another part. Hitting or yelling at him is not a violation of this sin. But he is understood two ways.

1- The Kesef Mishnah says that the Rambam is talking about hitting or yelling when not out of hatred. But certainly hating someone to the point of lashing out at them is worse than the explicitly prohibited act of hating them internally, without expression.

2- The Yad Qetanah disagrees. The Rambam is saying that hitting the person would not be a violation of “lo sisna“. It is instead prohibited by the next verse, the prohibition against taking revenge. This prohibition is about not expressing one’s anger and seething in it, letting it build into hatred.

3- Rashi (Eirkhin 16b) links the two clauses. The prohibition is to hate someone internally rather than give them tokhachah (rebuke). This is an extention of the Yad haQetana’s opion. The key issue is holding in the hatred rather than constructively using it, and then  Rashi adds the constructive use intended by the verse is tokhachah in particular.

The Ramban on our verse offers two suggestions for how to understand it.

4- Ramban first suggests that the mitzvos are not linked. It just happens to be the most common case that wrongdoing is followed by hatred and rebuke, in that order.

5- But then the Ramban presents what he feels is correct in his eyes, that the verse is giving a sequence. Hatred is defused through giving constructive criticism, which then gives him the opportunity to mend his ways. Thus agreeing with the Yad Qetanah’s understanding of the Rambam, and also with Rashi.

There is an important point here that is such an obvious part of emotional response I never stopped to consider its subtlety before. Anger is a response to an event or an experience. Anger leads to hatred. And although the Yad Qetanah doesn’t discuss it, hatred changes how I perceive future interactions with the person or thing, and therefore makes me more likely to get angry at them. The two emotions are not identical; first there is anger, and if it’s not properly managed, it becomes hatred.

This seems to be an exception to the normal rule with regard to mitzvos, that acting on idea reinforces it and embeds it further. As the Chinukh would say “a person is made according to his actions”. Anger must be constructively distilled; otherwise it grows.

The short techinah (personal request) we say after Shemoneh Esrei begins:

My G-d!אלוקי
Stop my tongue from evilנצור לשוני מרע,
and my lips from speaking duplicity.ושפתי מדבר מרמה.

(This is a variant of a verse from Tehillim that we say on Shabbos, in “LeDavid beShanoso es Ta’amo”, reconjugated into the first person for use as a personal request.) The Vilna Gaon discusses the first three lines of this techinah at length in Even Sheleimah. Something for another one of these essays. Here, I want to look only at what he says on this one line.

The sum of all evil middos are anger[1], desire, and egotism[2], which are “jealousy, desire and honor [remove a person from this world]”.[3] Each includes two [parts]. Of anger: evil and duplicity. Evil is revealed, and duplicity is “one thing in the mouth, another in the heart”.[4,5]

All this is included in the tefillah of “Hashem, stop my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking duplicity.”[6]

1- Nedarim 22a, 22b; Pesachim 66b, 113b
2- Sotah 4b, 5a; Sanhedrin 98a; Avos 4:2
3- Avos 4:21, stated by Rav Elazar haKapar

6- Beracho 17a

– Even Sheleimah 2:1

We see the Vilna Gaon associates ka’as, anger, with two subtypes: ra, the evil of expressing one’s anger, and mirma, internal anger, which is not expressed, so that there is one thing in one’s mouth, words of duplicity, and hatred in one’s heart.

This notion is tied to the one we were discussing above. The Chafetz Chaim (Be’eir Mayim Chayim on the introduction, 7th prohibition), understands the prohibition in our verse “do not hate your brother in your heart” to prohibit mirma in particular. By keeping the sin’ah internal, you are dishonestly maintaining unwarranted trust from the other person — they won’t know your motives are not in accord. He is thus siding with the understanding of the majority of our rishonim, that this prohibition is about being silent when getting angry, thus developing sin’ah.

The Vilna Gaon clearly says that we ask Hashem to guide us in a way that avoids both — expressing anger and hatred is ra, and not expressing it is mirma. Similarly, those who understand bilvavekha to exclude expressed anger would still prohibit expressing anger under the terms of the next verse, “do not take revenge, and do not repay a grudge”. They are limiting the scope here because the see the pasuq as speaking of stewing in hatred, not of anger. The Gaon’s comment on the prayer is an interpretation of anger, and thus even if he sides with them on how to read the chumash (and I do not know), he would include both in this context.

A side point about rebuke.  The nature of the obligation to give constructive criticism differs depending on whether the verse is understood as linked, or as distinct mitzvos.

According to Rashi et al, the focus of tochakhah is to clear the air and avoid hatred. Thus, the primary mitzvah is on things the other did to wrong you in particlar. According to the Kesef Mishnah’s understanding of the Rambam, the obligation is broader — preventing future sin. Someone who could rebuke and doesn’t will “carry the sin for him” who wasn’t corrected. This can include rebuke for the sake of the wrongdoer learning otherwise, for making sure the sin doesn’t become an accepted part of the culture in general, or even just to reinforce one’s own’s resistence and avoiding emulating him. That too is a discussion among the rishonim, but too far off point.

One last point, the one which led me to write about this topic during the Nine Days.

If we assume the pasuq is spelling out a single concept, then the sin one is not to carry because of another is the sin of hating them. It’s not an issue of the person not deserving the hate — after all, I had something to rebuke him for that I didn’t. Rather, it’s about responding in a destructive manner.

We attribute the fall of the Second Beis haMiqdash to sin’as chinam. (The gemara suggests other sins as well, but it seems to be that one which subsequent rabbanim predominantly call our attention to to repair in ourselves.) To be overly literal, it’s “hatred for nothing”. The idiom is usually translated as “basesless hatred”, that chinam describes the cause. However, we see the Torah’s description of hatred focuses on that which has a basis. Perhaps we can instead translate it “purposeless hatred”, the goal is chinam.

This is more inclusive. Misplaced hatred is unproductive. However, it is possible to have valid reason to hate someone but because it serves no end, one should not.

Two Tzadiqim on Loving the Evildoer

I found the following on a web site called “Two Tzaddiks: The Teachings of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz and His Disciple, Rebbe Raphael of Bershad”:

“In his teachings, R. Pinchas preached universal love, even love of the most sinful people in humanity, because only such love can hasten the coming of the Redeemer”. (Ideas and Ideals of the Hassidim, by Milton Aron, pp. 63−64)

[R’ Pinchas of Koretz] once said: “Who is a consummate tzadik? He who loves a consummate rasha [wicked person]. Who is an incomplete tzadik? He who loves an incomplete rasha.” Ginsburgh explains: “In the inner [depths] of one’s soul, it is the very highest level of tzadik that reaches down in love to raise up the very lowest level of rasha. The inherent goodness of the consummate tzadik sweetens the existential suffering of the consummate rasha”. (The Mystery of Marriage: How to Find True Love and Happiness in Married Life, by Yitzchak Ginsburgh, p. 89)

R’ Pinchas said: “One must love even the sinful, but must hate their actions. Although it is forbidden to be close to the wicked, one must still love them, so that perhaps they will return to the path of the Torah. As our Rabbis teach us regarding Aharon, ‘He loved peace and actively pursued peace and brought people closer to Torah.’ (Pirkei Avot 1:12) By loving his fellow men, Aharon brought them close to Torah, bringing them back to the correct path. Although the Gemara (Pesachim 113) says that if one sees his friend sinning, it is a mitzvah to hate him, Sefer Hatanya (ch. 32) limits this to a friend who generally observes Torah and mitzvot, yet has spurned proper rebuke. However, regarding a person with whom one is not friendly in this manner, we find in Pirkei Avot, ‘Hillel was fond of saying, “Be a student of Aharon—love peace … love G-d’s creatures, and bring them closer to the Torah.”’ This refers even to those who are distant from Torah and the service of G-d, and for that reason are referred to merely as ‘creatures.’ They have to be drawn with bonds of love, hopefully bringing them back to serve G‑d”. (“Covenant of Peace,” by Mordechai Greenberg)

R’ Pinchas said: “How can we daven for someone to do teshuva? Are we not taught, ‘All is in the hand of heaven, except for the fear of heaven?’ But Hashem includes all souls, and whatever is in the Whole is also in each part. Each soul therefore includes all other souls. When you yourself do teshuva, you can bring your neighbor to do teshuva. This is because you are included in your neighbor, and your neighbor is included in you”. (Midrash Pinhas, cited in A Call to the Infinite, by Aryeh Kaplan, cited in “Included in Your Neighbor,” at A Simple Jew)

R’ Raphael said: “Love the man of wickedness. Why? Because he will then love you, and love will unite his soul and yours. As a consequence, inasmuch as you hate wickedness, you will transfer your hate to him, thereby causing him to repent and turn from evil to good”. (Midrash Pinhas, p. 51, cited in The Hassidic Anthology, by Louis I. Newman, p. 220. Reprinted with permission of Ann Newman)

R’ Raphael said: “A man should not think contemptuously of his ability to do good. Let him but choose and G-d does the rest. Is there any limit to G-d’s ability?”. (Midrash Pinhas, p. 44, cited in The Hassidic Anthology, p. 97)

“From our teacher, the rabbi, Rabbi Raphael [of Bershad] … may his light shine upon us: ‘“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” said Rabbi Akiva: “This is the greatest principle of the Torah.”’ The SHeLaH (R. Isaiah Horowitz, c. 1570-1626) poses the question that this is all very well with respect to [commandments] between one person and another, but with respect to [commandments] between a person and G-d, what is there to say? See there. At first, he—may his light shine upon us—said: ‘According to the plain meaning, when a person loves, the Shechinah rests upon them. In this way, “all workers of iniquity are dispersed” (Psalms 92:10) and it is easy to fulfill the Torah.’

“Later he expounded along the lines of what is written in the writings of R. Fradl … that this is by virtue of not being impatient with one’s fellows, but accepting everything with patience, without one’s heart becoming agitated and being impatient about the slightest thing. Without all this, it is impossible to fulfill ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ unless one has set aside the attribute of impatience, which is [derived] from the attribute of Power [Gevurah], and in this way, does not use the attribute of Power in matters of this world. [Then] it is easy [to utilize] the power of this attribute to be fearful and agitated before the blessed G-d. And this is the greatest principle of the Torah”. (Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, p. 32, cited in “The Loving One’s Neighbour as Oneself,” by Larry Tabick)

R’ Pinchas said: “My Rafael knows how to love the most wicked evil-doers!”. (Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters, by Martin Buber, p. 130)

R’ Pinchas said: “If men did not sin, the Lord would have no occasion to employ His attributes of mercy, compassion, and the like, but only His attributes of justice. Therefore, it follows that even sinners please the Lord; they bring into play His worthiest attributes”. (Nofeth Tzufim, p. 17 (A), cited in The Hasidic Anthology, p. 44; and, similarly, in Ideas and Ideals of the Hassidim, p. 66)

The Pashkevil To End All Pashkevilin

R’ Yaakov Haber put this up at his blog, and I think it SO warrants further distribution, I’m mentioning it here.

To quote:

… [E]veryday there were posters about how, in the opinion of the poster maker, various rabbis, organizations or publications, created existential threats to the Jewish community.

There are also pashkevil about the dangers of attending public concerts. (Jewish music performed by Orthodox men and children with separate seating); the dangers of cell phones that have Internet access; and the dangers of certain books that expose the community to foreign concepts. … [N]ew pashkevil were just plastered around the city regarding a new Yeshivah for boys, that in the opinion of the plasterer, does not conform to the ‘long standing’ traditions of Ramat Beit Shemesh. (Ramat Beit Shemesh was founded in 1998).

Pashkevil’s are anonymous. Although they carry the signatures of great Rabbis, these signatures are dubious at best and have seldom been proven to be authentic. To my observation, they seldom accomplish anything positive, while they serve the purpose of promoting division and hate amongst Jews.

This is what the Chofetz Chaim said about Pashkevil’s:

“I must speak out my heart about the manner of conflict taking place among the Jewish people. One camp publicizes its view with the signatures of all of its backers. The other side does the same. One of them wrote ‘the one with the most signatures wins’, and I say the one with the most signatures is creating unnecessary conflict in Israel. All of Israel is burning like a fire as each side places more and more ads condemning their opposition. Even the holy land of Israel is becoming a subject of controversy. I don’t know who permitted all of these terrible sins. Everyone is sure that he is saying the truth and it is the other opinion that is creating the argument. This is a grave error, because even if both are right, they have no right to violate the Torah. So many mitzvos are being violated. No good can possibly come out of this. Right or wrong, they are creating a chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s Name). Twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died in one month, not because they argued, but because they argued improperly and caused a chilul Hashem. Certainly each one of these giants felt that he was right.”

So, with the help of my esteemed congregation, Kehilas Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Beit Shemesh, I designed a pashkevil of my own. The pashkevil is a verbatim letter of the Chofetz Chaim, signed by the Chofetz Chaim. We will cover every Pashkevil we can find with our pashkevil.

This is the pashkevil to end all pashkevil!

I prevailed upon Rabbi Haber to make PDFs available of the pashkevil, suitable for printing up and posting in your own shul.

Click here for the Hebrew version, and here for the English one.