By His Anger He is Really Known
“Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Yose: How do we know that the blessed Holy One מִתְפַּלֵּל (mitpallel), prays? As is said: I will bring them to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7). Not their house of prayer, but My house of prayer, therefore the blessed Holy One prays. What does He pray? Rav Zutra son of Toviah said in the name of Rav: ‘May it be My will that My mercy overcome My anger, and that My mercy prevail over My [other] qualities, so that I may deal with My children with the quality of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of harsh judgment’ [cf. BT Gittin 56b].
It was taught: Rabbi Yisham’el son of Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw אַכְתְּרִיאֵל יָהּ (Akhtri’el Yah), Mighty Crown of Yah, YHWH of Armies, seated on a high and exalted throne (Isaiah 6:1). He said to me: Yisham’el, My son, bless Me. I replied: May it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger and Your mercy prevail over Your other qualities, so that You may deal with Your children according to the quality of mercy and may, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of harsh judgment. And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn that the blessing of an ordinary person must not be considered lightly in your eyes.
Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose: How do you know that we must not try to placate a man in the time of his anger? As is written: My presence shall go, and I will grant you rest (Exodus 33:14). The blessed Holy One said to Moses: Wait till My enraged face passes and then I will grant you rest [cf. Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 12:25]. But is there anger before the blessed Holy One? Yes. For it has been taught: [Elohim exacts justice for the righteous] and El utters doom each day (Psalms 7:12) [cf. BT Avodah Zarah 4a ad loc.].
And how long does this rage last? One moment. And how long is one moment? One fifty-eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-eighth part of an hour. And no creature has ever been able to fix precisely this moment except the wicked Balaam, of whom is written: And knows what Elyon knows (Numbers 24:16). Now, he did not even know the mind of his beast [see ibid., 22], how then could he know the mind of Elyon?! Only that he knew how to fix precisely this moment in which the blessed Holy One is angry. And this is just what the prophet said to Israel: My people, recall, pray, what Balak king of Moab devised and what Balaam son of Beor answered him… that YHWH’s bounties would be known (Micah 6:5). What is that YHWH’s bounties would be known? Rabbi El’azar says: The blessed Holy One said to Israel: See now, how many righteous acts I performed for you in not being angry in the days of the wicked Balaam. For had I been angry, not one remnant would have been left of the enemies of Israel [i.e., Israel]. And this too is the meaning of what Balaam said to Balak: What can I hex that El has not hexed, and what can I doom that YHWH has not doomed? (Numbers 23:8). This teaches us that He was not angry all these days. And how long does His wrath last? רֶגַע (Rega), A moment. And how long is a rega? Rabbi Avin said (or according to some, Rabbi Avina), ‘As long as it takes to say rega.’ And how do you know that He seethes for a moment? For it is said: But a moment in His wrath, life in His favor (Psalms 30:6). Or if you wish, say: Hide but a moment until the wrath passes (Isaiah 26:20). And when does He seethe? Abbaye said, ‘Within those first three hours [see Zohar 1:182b], when the comb of the rooster is white and it stands on one foot. It stands this way each hour? In each other hour it has red streaks, but at this moment it has no red streaks at all” (BT Berakhot 7a).
“Rabbi Shim’on son of El’azar said in the name of Ḥilfa son of Agra in Rabbi Yoḥanan son of Nuri’s name: He who tears his garments in his anger, he who breaks his vessels in his anger, and he who scatters his money in his anger, regard him as an idolater, because such is the craft of the evil impulse: Today he says to him, ‘Do this’; tomorrow he tells him, ‘Do that,’ until he tells him, ‘Go and serve idols,’ and he goes and serves [them]. Rabbi Avin said: What verse [alludes to this]? There shall be among you no foreign god and you shall not bow to an alien god (Psalms 81:10); who is the alien god that is a person’s body? Say, the evil impulse! This is only necessary [to discuss] where he does it in order to instill fear in his household [thus, he maintains control of himself and is not in danger of succumbing to the evil impulse], as Rav Yehudah pulled the threads [of his garment;] Rav Aḥa son of Ya’aqov broke broken vessels; Rav Sheshet threw fish-brine at his maidservant’s head; Rabbi Abba broke a lid” (BT Shabbat 105b).
“Son of Zoma said: Who is strong? One who masters his [evil] impulse, as is written, Better patience than a warrior, and he who governs his spirit, than a conqueror of towns (Proverbs 16:32)” (M Avot 4:1).
“Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: He who loses his temper all the torments of Hell rule over him, as is written: And remove כַּעַס (ka’as), anger [or: worry], from your heart, and take evil away from your flesh (Ecclesiastes 11:10). Now evil can only mean Hell, as is written, Each act of YHWH has its own end; even the wicked, for an evil day (Proverbs 16:4). And not only that, he is made to suffer from hemorrhoids, as is written, And YHWH will give you there a quaking heart and a wasting away of the eyes and an anguished spirit (Deuteronomy 28:65). Now what causes a wasting away of the eyes and an anguished spirit? Certainly hemorrhoids.
When ‘Ulla went up to the land of Israel, he was joined by two inhabitants of Ḥozai, one of whom arose and slew the other. The murderer asked of ‘Ulla: ‘Did I do well?’ ‘Yes, and open the place of the slaughter,’ he replied. When he came before Rabbi Yoḥanan, he asked him, ‘Perish the thought, maybe I have strengthened the hands of transgressors?’ He replied, ‘You have saved your life.’ Then Rabbi Yoḥanan wondered: And YHWH will give you there a quaking heart—Babylon [and surely not the holy land of Israel]? ‘Ulla replied, ‘We had not yet crossed the Jordan.’ Rabbah son of Rav Huna said: He who loses his temper, even שְׁכִינָה (Shekhinah), the Divine Presence, is unimportant in his eyes, as is written, The wicked sought not in his towering wrath—’There is no God’ (Psalms 10:4)—God is not in all his thoughts. Rabbi Yirmeyah of Difti said: He forgets his learning and waxes ever more stupid, as is written, [Better a thing’s end than its beginning; better patience than haughtiness. Do not be rash in your mood to be angry,] for anger rests in the lap of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9); and is written, [Every shrewd man acts through knowledge,] but a dullard broadcasts folly (Proverbs 13:16). Rav Naḥman son of Yitsḥaq said: It is certain that his crimes out number his merits, as is written, [An angry man stirs up strife,] and a hothead abounds in crime (ibid. 29:22)” (BT Nedarim 22b).
“Rabbi Yehudah opened, ‘Desist from a human, whose breath is in his nostrils, for of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:22). This verse has been established, but what is the meaning of Desist from a human? Is Scripture warning a person to avoid other people? Then they would act the same toward him, and consequently people would never approach one another! Rather, they have established this as referring to one who immediately upon rising in the morning goes to the door of his friend to greet him. We, however, have based this upon another verse, as is written: One who blesses his fellow loudly, rising early in the morning, [shall have it reckoned to him as a curse] (Proverbs 27:14). Although all is fine, still, what is the meaning of Desist from a human, אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ (asher neshamah be-appo), whose breath is in his nostrils?
Here the blessed Holy One commands a person and warns him to be wary of those who pervert their ways from good to evil, and defile their souls with that alien defilement. But when the blessed Holy one created the human being, He fashioned him in a supernal image, and breathed into him a holy spirit comprised on three, as they have established: nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah. Highest of all is neshamah, for she is a supernal power, by which to know and observe the commandments of the blessed Holy One. If one conducts that holy neshamah into alien worship, he defiles her and abandons the worship of his Lord; for these three powers are all one—nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, participating as one, becoming one, patterned entirely on supernal mystery.
If we see a person who possesses all these rungs—though his status and identity are still uncertain—how can we determine whether to approach him or avoid him? By his anger he is really known, and recognized for who he is [cf. BT Eruvin 65b]. If, in a moment of anger, he maintains that holy neshamah—not uprooting her from her place so as to supplant her with that alien god—then this is a fitting human being, this is a servant of his Lord, this is a consummate man. And if that person does not maintain her—uprooting this supernal holiness from its place, to supplant it with the Other Side—then this is surely a person who rebels against his Lord, and it is forbidden to approach him or associate with him. This one is called he who tears his soul in his anger (Job 18:4)—tearing and uprooting his soul on account of his anger, and enabling an alien god to dwell within in. Thus it is written: Desist from a human אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ (asher neshamah be-appo)—who tears and defiles that holy neshamah on account of appo, his anger; who exchanges neshamah for his anger.
For בַמֶּה (va-meh), of what, account is he? (Isaiah 2:22)—this person is accounted an idol. Whoever associates with him or speaks with him is like one who associates with a real idol. Why? Because real idolatry dwells within him. Moreover, he has uprooted supernal holiness from its place and supplanted it with idolatry, an alien god. As, regarding an alien god, it is written: Do not turn to the idols (Leviticus 19:4), it is similarly forbidden to look at his face.
Now, you might say, ‘But what about anger of the Sages?’ Well, anger of the Sages is good in all aspects, for we have learned that Torah is fire, and Torah inflames him, as is written: ‘Is not My word like fire?’ declares YHWH (Jeremiah 23:29). Anger of the Sages, over words of Torah; anger of the Sages, to honor Torah—all in the service of the blessed Holy One. But if over other matters, this is not service of the blessed Holy One; for no other sin committed by a person is real idolatry, and it is forbidden to approach him.
Now, you might say, ‘This was only for a moment, for it passed and then he returned.’ Not so! For once he has uprooted the holiness of his soul from himself and from its place, and that alien god usurps that place, it entrenches itself and will not leave him. Except when a person purifies himself completely and eradicates it permanently, and then strives to sanctify himself and to draw holiness—then, oh that he could become holy!
Rabbi Yose said to him, ‘He really does become holy!’ He replied, ‘Come and see: When he uproots the holiness of his soul and supplants it with that alien god, that person is defiled and called ‘impure,’ and he defiles whoever approaches him, and that holiness flees from him. If it has fled once, how much must a person do until it returns to its place!’ He said, ‘If so, what about all the defiled who are purified?’ He replied, ‘Any other defilement is different, not being so effective, but this one is unique, defiling the whole body, inside and out, and the soul and everything. Other defilements of the world affect only the outer body. Therefore it is written: Desist from a human אֲשֶׁר נְשָׁמָה בְּאַפּוֹ (asher neshamah be-appo)—who has exchanged the holiness of his Lord for appo, his anger; for this is defilement defiling all. For בַמֶּה (va-meh), of what, account is he? בָּמָה (Bamah), a cult site—idolatry, surely—he is accounted” (Zohar 2:182a–b).
“Come and see what is written: They said, a man to his brother (Genesis 37:19)—Simeon and Levi, who were truly brothers in every respect, for they issued from the side of harsh judgment, so their wrath was murderous, as is written: Cursed be their anger, so fierce (ibid. 49:7).
Come and see the mystery of the matter: There is wrath, and then there is wrath! There is wrath blessed from above and below, called blessed, as has been said, for it is written: [And Abram heard that his kinsman was taken captive…. And he and his servants with him fanned out against them by night and he struck them and pursued them…. And he brought back all the substance, and also Lot his kinsman and his substance he brought back, and the women and the other people as well…. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine, for he was priest to God the Highest. And he blessed him, and he said,] Blessed be Abram by God the Highest (ibid. 14:9), as they have established [cf. Zohar 2:243a]. And there is wrath cursed above and below, as has been said, called cursed as is written: Cursed are you among all animals and among all beasts of the field (ibid. 3:14). Cursed be their anger, so fierce.
Upon this mystery stand two mountains, as is written: You will give the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 11:29), corresponding to these two rungs, so this is called cursed and that is called blessed. Simeon and Levi issue from the side of harsh judgment, and from the side of harsh, fierce judgment issues accursed wrath.
Come and see: From the aspect of harsh judgment issue two aspects, one that has been blessed and one that has been cursed, one blessed and one cursed. Similarly, from the side of Isaac issued two sons: one blessed and the other cursed, above and below, one branching inward and the other to his side, one dwelling in the Holy Land and the other on Mount Seir, as is written: a skilled hunter, a man of the field—this one’s domain in wilderness, ruin, and desolation; this one dwelling in tents (Genesis 25:27), all as it should be. So there are two rungs: blessed and cursed, each on its own side. From this one issue all blessings of the world above and below, all joy and goodness, all radiance, all deliverance and redemption. From that one issues all curses, all war, all bloodshed, all desolation, all evils, and all defilement” (Zohar 1:184a–b, cf. ibid. 3:18b).