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Sin and Anger

By: SFW Students & Alumna
Elianna Pollak (SFW '09)

In this week’s Parsha, Nitzavim, 29:19 contains a description of Hashem’s response to one who feels free to sin, thinking his safety is assured due to Hashem’s Brit to the Jewish Nation: “Hashem will not be willing to forgive him, for then Hashem’s anger and His wrath will smoke against that man and the entire oath written in this book will come down upon him, and Hashem will erase his name from under heavens.” It seems superfluous that both anger and wrath are expressed here.  Rashi, on “Hashem’s anger (nose) will smoke” describes the use of the word “nose” in the context of Hashem’s anger. He says that when angered, the body temperature rises, and figuratively, the nose smokes.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s description of anger in his book, “The Enemy Within”, perfectly categorizes Hashem’s response in our pasuk. Anger, Rabbi Twerski says, comprises three potentially mutually exclusive components. The first is the physical reaction to any hostile or aggressive provocation, a natural response which is unavoidable and therefore acceptable.  This is what Rashi describes as “anger” in the pasuk- that Hashem was right and natural in feeling anger toward such a man. Such a sin is so derogatory that it elicits a natural feeling of anger from Hashem. After this initial reaction, one must work hard to avoid the next two stages. “Wrath” on the other hand is what Rabbi Twerski calls a reaction to the initial feeling of anger (“and the entire oath written in this Book will come down upon him”), and finally the third stage of anger is retaining said feelings of hostility (“and Hashem will erase his name from under the heavens,” a lasting punishment). Obviously Hashem was justified in His response to such a sinner but we, especially before Rosh Hashana, must perform some hasty introspection as to why such a sin would ellicit such a response from Hashem. The Hegyonei Halacha (page 167) says that [so said R’ Simcha Zissel Mikelem] every individual on his own must fear the Day of Judgement and should not rely on a miracle, but the community, Klal Yisrael, can rely on their fate being sealed for the good.

The sinner’s rationale is that he will be saved because Hashem has made an oath to Bnei Yisroel, however, as the Hegyonei Halacha explained, the individual does not have any assurance of salvation and must be careful in his actions. Hopefully after Teshuva, Hashem will redeem us as it says in 30:3, “Then Hashem your God will return your captivity and have mercy upon you...” Rashi explains that the loshon used is “He will return”, whereas we would expect it to say “and He will return us.” From where or what is Hashem returning? Rashi explains that when discussing Israel’s redemption, God also had redemption written about Himself - He had rested with Israel in the hardship of exile.  Hashem, residing in the third stage of anger (retention) while Bnei Yisroel were in galut, had to “return.” In this Hashem teaches us an amazing lesson- when one retains anger , not only does he “exile” the person he has a grudge against, but alas, also himself.

And so, before Rosh Hashana I wish us all the zchus to really work on our middos and realize just how much damage we inflict when we exercise our anger. B’ezrat Hashem, our actions will merit Hashem’s return from His anger and bring us out of galut back to Eretz Yisroel.


Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Nitzavim