On Pesakh, as we re-enact our personal and national liberation from Lit. Egypt. Because the Hebrew word for narrow is tzar, Mitzrayim is also understood as "narrowness," as in, the narrow and confining places in life from which one emerges physically and spiritually. [i] and consider possibilities for achieving greater freedom in our own lives, our senses and emotions are heightened. After drinking our third glass of wine, we pour a cup for Elijah is a biblical prophet who is said never to have died. There are therefore many legends associated with Elijah. In the Talmud, unresolved arguments will be resolved when Elijah comes. He will herald the coming of the messiah. In Jewish ritual, Elijah is a liminal figure, arriving at moments of danger and transition – at a brit milah, a chair is put out for him, a cup is poured for Elijah at the Passover seder, and he is invoked at havdalah. His Hebrew name is Eliyahu. and proceed to demand that G-d pour out in a different way: Shefoch chamatcha el hagoyim: “Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not know You…Pour out your fury on them…Pursue them in rage & destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord [ii].” Like veterans re-experiencing the trauma of war, on Lit. Order. The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees. night our experience of revisiting our darkest places and times (both historical and current) can evoke powerful emotion. The Lit. "Telling.” The haggadah is the book used at the seder table on Passover to tell the story of the Exodus, the central commandment of the holiday. It is rich in song, prayer, and legend. There are many different version of the Haggadah produced throughout Jewish history. incorporates symbols and readings that facilitate expression of sorrow and grief, [iii] and in this section of the seder we allow for the emotion of rage. Evidently, there are times and places where anger is appropriate.
In fact, our Scriptures refer to anger in its various forms and expressions over 500 times. [iv] Undoubtedly, it is the most prevalent biblical emotion. Lit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov. is angry with his wife Lavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem.; Jonah is angry with G-d; The quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe. is angry with the people; the people are angry with Moses; Moses is angry with his nephews; Pharaoh is angry with his servants; G-d is angry with Moses; G-d is angry with Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. and Brother of Moses, chosen as Moses' interlocutor. His Hebrew name is Aharon.; G-d is angry with the people; Saul is angry with his son Jonathan; Jeremiah is angry with G-d; Habbakuk is angry with G-d, etc., etc.
More important than simply noting the frequency with which a concept arises, the kabbalists teach us to examine the first occurrence of the concept or emotion in the Bible. This provides a lens through which to understand and gain perspective on all future biblical references to it, and is instructive for own lives.
Anger first appears in the story of Cain and Abel.[v] Cain becomes “exceedingly angry” when Abel’s offering is found more acceptable than his. G-d asks him “why are you angry…” and (seemingly without waiting for a response) proceeds to tell Cain that he still has an opportunity to harness his anger, perhaps even channel it to a constructive use. Cain is apparently unable to rise to G-d’s challenge: to identify and take control over his anger. Consumed by his anger, he kills Abel.
G-d and our biblical ancestors appear unafraid to publicly demonstrate their anger, perhaps making them more relatable to later generations. Anger—be it G-d’s or ours—seems to be an inevitable part of life. Unless we believe that we are greater than our Creator, anger would seem to be something that we should welcome and cultivate, rather than attempt to eradicate through piety or training of the mind.
In the aftermath of the Golden Calf betrayal, G-d self-describes as “slow to anger” [vi]; in my life, [vii] I have “permission”—perhaps even a Lit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." or an “obligation”—to express anger at injustices perpetuated toward myself and others. This attribute (and the passage in general) directs us to acknowledge our anger, just as G-d does. G-d doesn’t apologize or feel shame for having and expressing this emotion. From these teachings, we can infer that G-d is challenging each of us to “own” our anger and to take responsibility for it along with our other emotions, to confront our anger rather than avoid it.
With this in mind, we can interpret the question “Why are you angry?” that is sometimes directed at us as: “OK, you’re angry. Now what are you going to do with that anger?” Will it be left unchecked, or can it be mastered just as we are enjoined to master every other object and emotion that G-d puts into our world? [viii] Maybe we can ultimately learn to emulate Moses who often employed his anger in the service of G-d, or Pinchas who receives heavenly acclaim for using his anger to defend G-d’s honor [ix].
When our anger is ignited, it is our responsibility to cultivate thought-out responses that emulate G-d’s attribute and directive of being “slow to anger.” Shefoch Chamatcha reminds us that open—even public—display, discussion, recognition, and validation of anger, rather than avoidance, can be both healthy and necessary. A door opens to forgiveness and reconciliation, just as the door of our home opens to welcome Elijah is a biblical prophet who is said never to have died. There are therefore many legends associated with Elijah. In the Talmud, unresolved arguments will be resolved when Elijah comes. He will herald the coming of the messiah. In Jewish ritual, Elijah is a liminal figure, arriving at moments of danger and transition – at a brit milah, a chair is put out for him, a cup is poured for Elijah at the Passover seder, and he is invoked at havdalah. His Hebrew name is Eliyahu. and redemption.
At the seder, we create a safe—and sacred—space for a wide range of emotions. May our emotional and spiritual growth through the seder’s 15 steps bring us healing and wholeness, and challenge us to use our passions to create a better (inner and outer) world.
As a board certified chaplain, Rabbi Daniel Coleman provides spiritual care to patients, families, and staff of all faiths and none at North Shore University Hospital, New York. Daniel guides individuals in giving voice to their fears, angst, laments, and hopes. Privileged to work at the intersection of medicine and religion, he enjoys frequent daily opportunities to talk to and about G-d. email@example.com
[i] Mitzrayim—the Hebrew word for Egypt—derives from the word metzar—a narrow or constricted space. Seder enables us to explore the “Egypt”—the constraints—in our lives and how we can make a contemporary personal journey toward a place of greater expansiveness—our Promised Land. Each year on Pesakh we are invited to examine what enslaves us, taste freedom, and take steps toward it, while being mindful of and thankful for the blessings and miracles along the way.
[ii] Psalms 79:6,7; 69:25; Lamentations 3:66.
[iii] Examples include: the breaking/broken The unleavened bread eaten on Passover that recalls the Israelite's hasty escape from Egypt when there was no time for the dough to rise. Matzah is also considered the "bread of our affliction," eaten while we were slaves. and subsequent search for wholeness; the egg symbolizing fertility, death, and the circle of life; Bitter herbs eaten at the Passover seder to recall slavery in Egypt, representing the bitterness in our life (combined with our quest to palliate it with The fruit and nut paste included in the Passover seder to represent the mortar the Israelite slaves used in Egypt. In Ashkenazic tradition, nuts are ground with apples and wine to make haroset for the Passover seder plate. Sephardic and other Middle-Eastern haroset typically uses dates as the base, often seasoned with ground ginger or cinnamon.); saltwater representing our tears, etc.
[iv] Five Hebrew words are used to convey anger in the Bible: af (over 200 references), chaimah (125), charah (93), ketzef (62), ka’as (75).
[v] Genesis 4:3.
[vi] Exodus 32:19.
[vii] Babylonian The rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. Tractate Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. 133b, expounding the imperative of imitatio dei found in Deuteronomy 10:12 and 28:9.
[viii] Genesis 1:28.
[ix] Numbers 25:11.