Anger is a difficult emotion to avoid. While people vary in what it takes to get them angry—some people having shorter tempers than others—everyone has something that can really get to them and make them angry.
The one thing all expressions of anger have in common is that they are almost always the result of something another person did to us. From the smallest infraction like being cut off in traffic, to being swindled out of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme, at the root of our anger lies another person’s actions.
We get angry because of our frustration with what someone else did, and we feel that if only that person had not acted in such a selfish or self-serving manner, this problem would never have happened to me. If only they would behave as I think they should, my life would be so much better and I wouldn’t have any reason to be angry.
Interestingly, the Talmud compares getting angry to idolatry. Think that seems a bit harsh? Sure, getting angry often isn’t good socially, and people with longer tempers are typically considered more amicable and nicer people. But isn’t comparing it to one of the gravest sins in the Torah—idol worship!—somewhat of a stretch? Tell us it’s as bad as some “minor” sins and that can make sense, but not when it’s put up there with defaming G-d’s Name.
The explanation can be found in the story of Joseph and his reunification with his brothers.
After they had sold him into slavery, and his being separated from him family for 22 years, the twelve brothers finally reunite in Egypt, and they discover that their long lost brother was none other than the ruler of Egypt himself! Understandably, they were taken aback and afraid that Joseph would now use his position to take revenge for what they had done to him. So Joseph immediately calmed their fears and assured them that “you did not send me here, but G-d.”
Joseph had every right to be angry at his brothers, and no one would have questioned him had he chosen to exact revenge for all his years of suffering. But instead, he tells his brothers it wasn’t you, it was G-d! You may have been a tool in G-d’s big proverbial shed which led me to being here, but it was all part of G-d’s plan.
Being as righteous and spiritual as he was, Joseph recognized how everything that occurs to a person in this world is from G-d. Even something that someone else did to him. Were he to choose the anger route, that would have been like saying that G-d plays no role in our lives and that things can just happen independently.
And that is tantamount to idolatry. When we forget that G-d is ultimately in control of everything, including what happens to us personally, that is akin to bowing to a statue made of wood or stone and attributing divine powers to it.
Of course, that doesn’t justify people’s bad behavior, and you should never consider hurting another person in any way and then say, “Don’t blame me, it was G-d.” That’s obviously wrong. But when you’re on the receiving end of another person’s misdeeds, remember that for whatever reason this was meant to happen to you, regardless of who did it. Therefore, getting angry will not help. Instead, take a deep breath and remind yourself that G-d is in control, and hopefully with time things will turn around for the better, one way or the other.
Just like they did for Joseph.