Fixing Your Fire - 001 Anger | Despair Caused By Anger
Introduction To Anger
Rav Chaim Vital writes that the element of fire is the root of conceit and anger. In the previous series, we merited learning about conceit and now we will explore the trait of anger, with siyata d’shmaya.
Each of the elements contains aspects of all of the four elements, so when we are learning about anger, which stems from the element of fire, we will see also how there anger stems from earth-of-fire, water-of-fire, wind-of-fire, and fire-of-fire. Each of these as well will subdivide into an additional four divisions [adding up for a total of sixteen different kinds of anger].
The Four General Kinds of Anger
1) Earth-of-fire refers to the “dry” aspect of fire. One of the main identifying natures of fire is its “dryness”. When anger stems from the “dryness” of fire, it is stemming from the dry “earth” aspect of fire. This is a kind of anger which ‘dries’ a person out as a result of getting angry.
2) Water-of-fire refers to a feeling of vitality that rushes into a person when he is angry. Sometimes when a person is angry, he feels a surge of power entering him. Vitality stems from water, so when a person feels a sense of vitality and energy as he’s getting angry, his anger is stemming from the “water” aspect of fire.
3) Wind-of-fire is when a person loses his sense of movement and direction (his ‘wind’), as he’s angry.
4) Fire-of-fire refers to an intense kind of anger that fills the entire being of the person. We find an example of this by Haman, when he realized that Mordechai wouldn’t bow to him: “And Haman was filled with wrath.”
Those are the four general roots of anger. Let’s begin with anger that stems from earth-of-fire, which also subdivides into four types: earth-of-earth-of-fire, water-of-earth-of-fire, wind-of-earth-of-fire, and fire-of-earth-of-fire.
The Four Kinds of Anger Stemming From Earth-of-Fire
1) Earth-of-earth-of-fire is when a person gets angry and it causes him to reach a point of despair.
2) Water-of-earth-of-fire is when a person gets angry to the point that he loses a drive to do anything. (Unlike in the case of anger stemming from water-of-fire, where a person feels good as he’s getting angry, in the case of water-of-earth-of-fire, the person feels the opposite: his anger causes him to lose his sense of vitality for anything.
3) Wind-of-earth-of-fire is when a person gets angry to the point that his “movement” is somewhat paralyzed, in the sense that other abilities of his soul become temporarily weakened.
4) Fire-of-earth-of-fire is when a person, in his anger, reaches a deep feeling of ‘destruction’.
This is the general outline of the concepts, and at this point, these matters sound closed and mysterious. As we go along, we hope to explain these concepts more clearly.
Anger Stemming From Earth-of-Earth-of-Fire: When Anger Breeds Despair
The first kind of anger we will explore is anger that stems from earth-of-earth-of-fire. When a person gets angry, the ‘dryness’ of the element of fire may activate the “dryness” of the ‘earth’ aspect in fire, leading to a feeling of despair (a trait rooted in earth).
Thus, earth-of-earth-of-fire is when anger leads a person to feel despair. There is also a general kind of despair which is rooted in the element of earth, but here we dealing with despair that results from anger, which is rooted in fire.
The Factors That Contribute To Anger
Firstly, in order to deal with this, we will need to understand what causes anger in the first place. There is an external reason that causes anger, as well as an inner reason.
The stronger a person has a ratzon (will) for something, the stronger his anger will be when his will is opposed. The weaker a person’s ratzon was, the less anger he will experience when this ratzon is unmet. A person is angry when he doesn’t get something that he wanted very badly, but if he didn’t want it so much, he is not as angry. This is the external aspect of anger: experiencing an opposition to my ratzon\will.
The second factor involved in anger, which is the inner reason, is when there is a lack of balance in the four elements of the soul. This is referred to as “boiling of the blood”. A lack of balance in the soul’s elements will cause a person’s blood to boil quickly when he is angered, and the person becomes one who is “easily angered”. This is not because his will has been opposed. It is because he is lacking inner peace, since his element of fire is not balanced with the other elements in his soul. This leaves him vulnerable to quickly explode in anger, as he is easily angered.
These are two very different factors that lead to anger: when a person’s will is opposed, and when the element of fire is not balanced properly by the other elements in the soul. When anger is stemming from the first cause, the anger will depend on the intensity of the person’s ratzon\will for something. If anger is stemming from the second cause, though, a person will be easily angered, even over something he doesn’t consider that important.
The solutions to each of these two kinds of anger will be very different. When anger is stemming from the second reason (a lack of balance in the soul), this anger is much harder to treat, because he has explosions of anger over anything that frustrates him. However, the more inner a person is, he usually is angered due to the first reason: because his ratzon has been opposed.
When The Ratzon (Will) Is Opposed
For example, Reuven and Shimon might go through the very same exact situation, where Shimon stays calm and Reuven gets angry. Is Shimon on a higher spiritual level than Reuven, since he didn’t get angry? It is very possible that Reuven is more spiritual than Shimon. Reuven might have a far greater balance in his soul than Shimon and he doesn’t get angry so quickly, but a certain kind of situation might trigger Reuven’s anger, if it challenged a particular ratzon of Reuven’s which was very strong. (If Reuven’s ratzon is a holy ratzon, then it is an even more commendable kind of anger, and this is a separate discussion for itself).
If Reuven has a generally balanced soul throughout the day, meaning that he is constantly utilizing his potential in the right way (which is a sign of a balanced soul), his faculty of ratzon becomes strengthened with this. That will mean that there will be certain situations that oppose a strong ratzon of his, which will cause him to get angry. Others will not get angered at this very same situation, because they haven’t developed their souls as much, so they didn’t feel that their ratzon was attacked.
The best example we can use for this is Moshe Rabbeinu. The Sages learn that when one is angered, he is apt to make mistakes. This is learned from Moshe, who got angry once, when his ratzon was opposed [at the episode of the Waters of Strife]. A hint to this is that the word “Moshe” has the same gematria as the word ratzon. Thus, we learn from this that when a person has a strong ratzon for something and that ratzon gets opposed, there will be anger.
We have absolutely no comprehension of the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, yet the Sages learn from Moshe about the nature of anger: anger is awakened when one’s strong ratzon is opposed. Furthermore, it is explained by our Sages that Moshe was born in the month where the mazal of “Maadim” is dominant, and those born under the mazal of Maadim have a nature of bloodshed. Moshe was born with a nature to become excitable and angered at others, but he rectified this trait. His outer show of anger was actually a means of how his nature was rectified.
As great as Moshe was, there was still some “anger” on Moshe Rabbeinu’s level, which we cannot understand (we don’t understand his ratzon, and we don’t understand his anger), and the Sages learn from what happened with Moshe about the nature of anger: anger is awakened when a person’s ratzon is opposed.
Beginning To Fix Anger: Analyzing Which Kind of Anger We Have
Therefore, when we begin to learn about anger, one should ask himself: “What are the things that make me angry? What are the reasons and motivating factors that cause me to get angry?”
One needs to see if he is being angered by situations that attack his ratzon, or if his anger is being caused by a lack of balance in his soul. Those are the two possibilities. The difference between these two sources of anger is vast, and they each need to be treated very differently.
The first source for anger, an attack on one’s ratzon, is reminiscent of the “anger of a Torah scholar”. The Sages state that if a young Torah scholar is angered, it is the “fire of Torah” which has angered him; elsewhere the Gemara says that even so, a Torah scholar needs to be cautious with his anger, or else he will come to make mistakes as he’s angry. Similarly, the Gemara says that “Kohanim are ragzanim (excitable).”
But if one’s anger is simply stemming from a simmering feeling of anger which makes a person’s blood boil, this is a lowlier source of anger, which stems from the more animalistic, immature parts of the soul, and it requires a more basic kind of fixing [which will not be discussed here].
Summary of the Two Sources of Anger
In summary, there are two root sources of anger (which branch out into many other kinds of anger, but these are the two roots):
(1) Anger that stems from an unmet\opposed ratzon.
(2) Anger that stems from the “boiling of the blood”, a lack of balance in the soul, of which Chazal describe in the term, “easily angered.”
Earth-of-Earth-of-Fire: Despair Caused By Anger
Returning to our topic, earth-of-earth-of-fire – the anger that stems from earth-of-earth-of-fire – this is a kind of anger that causes a person to feel despair.
When a person’s ratzon is unfulfilled, what happens? There are different reactions. One kind of person will feel, “There is no such thing as despair”; he won’t give up on his ambitions and he will keep wanting his ratzon. Others, however, while not getting upset at their unfulfilled ratzon, will still sink into a frustrated state of despair.
When a person realizes that it will take too much hard work to attain what he wants, either he will despair, or, he will feel first anger. This is what we are dealing with here: the anger will cause him to feel despair.
How does this happen? It is because anger awakens the ‘dryness’ of the element of fire in the soul. The ‘dryness’ essentially means that he loses his feeling of vitality in life. The Sages state that when a person is angry, his soul leaves him.
The temporary loss of the soul, which happens to the person as he is angry, will mean that he loses his source of vitality (his “mekor chaim”, or his “chiyus”). The soul of man is called “nefesh chayah” (spirit of life), from the word “chiyus” (vitality, or life-giving energy), and when one “loses his soul” as he’s angry, he is really losing his source of vitality in life. He is left as a body with no soul. The body is made from the element of earth, so he is plunged into a ‘dry’ place where there is no real vitality.
The anger has activated the “dryness” of the soul, and now the person is wallowing in a dry and parched space. Now what will he do? Either he will give up on what he wants, which is a partial kind of despair, or, he will react with a heavier kind of despair which is more destructive. There are people who, when they don’t get what they want, they become totally enraged, and they consider all of their life worthless at that point, because of something that they wanted and didn’t get.
This is what happened with Haman: “And Haman was filled with wrath.” After that transpired, what happened? He said, “All of this is not worth anything to me.” He reached a point of total despair. After that point, his anger was re-awakened, and now he was bent on taking revenge on not only Mordechai, but on the entire Jewish people. But before he hit that point, his anger had caused him to reach a state of total despair, a feeling that his entire life was worthless; only later did he realize that he can still get what he wants. That state of total despair which he fell into was due to an extreme ‘dryness’ of the soul that has been awakened by his negative ‘fire’.
When ‘dryness’ in the soul is awakened, it causes a person to not only despair from a personal ratzon that he has, but to enter into a general state of despair, where his entire life feels worthless. This is the kind of despair that results from anger.
Discerning The Extent of the Despair
Therefore, when one is angry, he should try to discern to how much of an extent his feeling of has become, by mentally asking himself: “Am I upset because I didn’t get something I wanted, and that is why I have given up on it? Or I am so upset at this so much to the point that I feel like everything in my life is worthless?”
Any sensible person is aware that there is also an “in-between” level between these two reactions: A person might not come to feel that everything in his life is worthless, and he might not either give up totally on a particular ratzon of his that has been opposed, but he still might come to give up on other retzonos he has, as a result of his despair that is induced by the anger he feels.
Three Levels of Despair Caused By Anger
In summary, there are altogether three different possible reactions of despair that can ensue when a person is angry:
(1) A person in his anger might come to despair over a particular ratzon that he had wanted, and this is “partial despair”.
(2) He might come to feel a “total” level of despair, where he feels like everything is worthless, because his ratzon has been opposed\unmet.
(3) The “in-between” level is that he might come to give up on other areas as well that go beyond the particular ratzon that has been opposed.
Analyzing The Third Possibility
Now let’s analyze a deep point. In the third possibility, where a person in his anger comes to feel despair over other things that he wanted as well, why did he react so intensely? It must be that his very ratzon was attacked, being that he wanted something very badly and he didn’t get it. He feels like his entire ratzon has taken a hit, and that is why he will come to feel a despair over other retzonos that he has.
Of course, when we analyze this objectively, we can understand that this is a very illogical and negative reaction to the situation. But this is what he’s thinking: he doesn’t isolate the particular ratzon from his other retzonos, and therefore he comes to feel that an attacked ratzon of his will mean that he cannot attain any ratzon at all. Despair over one ratzon of his therefore causes him to feel despair over all of his retzonos.
Why, indeed is he unable to make the distinction between one ratzon and the rest of his retzonos? If he has reacted in this way, he needs to make the following deep inner reflection, as we will explain.
When We Don’t Know What We Want
Whenever a person wants something, most of the time, we do not know what we even want.
For example, a person wants a good shidduch, but he might not know what he’s looking for. He is looking for certain qualities in a spouse but that doesn’t mean he’s sure of what kind of spouse he really wants. Another example: when a person is looking for a certain Kolel to learn in, he is looking for “a good Kolel”, but he does not know exactly what he is looking for.
When a person is looking to buy a house, does he know exactly what he wants in a good house…? When a person wishes that he could he have nachas from his children, does he know what he wants from his children…?
It is no wonder that a person will become angry when things don’t work out for him in these areas - he has no idea of what he really wants in the first place.
A person does not become unclear about what he wants as he’s angry. It doesn’t begin when he’s angry; it begins before the anger. He doesn’t know in the first place what he wants. Meaning, what he really wants is cloudy and unclear to him.
When this unclear and cloudy ratzon is opposed, he is not even sure of what his ratzon is, and he gets angry that this ratzon has been opposed, when he is not even clear of what it is, in the first place. So he is not either clear about what is opposing him.
Even if he is intellectually aware that his will is being opposed, he does not feel in his heart any clarity of what his ratzon is. That being the case, when this unclear ratzon of his is opposed, the opposition is not touching upon his actual ratzon.
Irrational Explosions of Anger
All the more so does this apply in a case where anger is not stemming from an opposition to one’s ratzon, but because of the second reason we listed above, which is due to the “boiling of the blood”. This anger is merely an explosive reaction and it will depend on a person’s natural temperament, and it has nothing to do with the ratzon. In the scenario, the opposition surely isn’t touching upon his ratzon, because his anger is simply a reactive, angry explosion.
To illustrate this kind of anger, we can see it in children when they get upset. If a child is upset at his sibling for taking away his toy and he’s raging about it, and you try giving him a different toy in order to placate him, and he doesn’t want to take it. You give him a bigger and better toy than the toy that was taken from him, yet he still doesn’t want to take it.
He is acting very irrational, because logic would dictate that if you’re giving him an even better and more enjoyable toy to play with, the whole cause of his anger should vanish. But the child is still angry and he will not take any other toy you give him, even if he knows it’s a more enjoyable toy to play with than the one that was taken from him.
This kind of anger is not being caused by an opposition to his ratzon, because if it was, you would be supplying his ratzon by giving him a better toy. This anger is not about getting what he wants. It is simply an angry tirade which is totally illogical and it is temporary insanity, where a person doesn’t feel anything sensible at the moment, and he’s not even aware of his ratzon. He loses sight of what he wants and he simply becomes enmeshed in anger.
When the child is not angry and he is calm, and we ask him which toy or candy he’d prefer, he would of course want the one we are offering to him. But as he’s actually angry, it is as if he can’t feel anything, and he loses his logical senses. This is because the anger in this scenario extends far past the factor of unmet ratzon.
We can see that even when children get older and they are more mature, they might still retain this kind of anger, where they have explosions of anger that cannot be rationally solved, and it’s simply a temper issue. During the time of this kind of anger, a person actually loses awareness of all of his retzonos, and he’s not consciously focused on trying to attain his ratzon; the intense anger silenceshis entire ratzon, because it has penetrated into all of the soul’s layers.
Sometimes it is a temporary loss of the senses and sometimes it lasts longer, and it will depend on how intense the anger is. If the anger is very strong, it can extend way past the unmet ratzon, shaking up all of the layers of the soul. This is obviously a negative and destructive kind of anger.
Fixing Anger Caused By ‘Partial’ Despair and By Unclear Ratzon: Becoming Aware of The Ratzon
Let’s understand clearly that when a person is not clear of what his ratzon is, he will feel much more opposition when things don’t go his way. If so many things can oppose him, this is much more harmful to him than the anger, because he is in a much more vulnerable state to opposition.
The beginning of the avodah to fix anger (this is a general approach to fixing anger, but it applies even more particularly to the particular kind of anger we are discussing, which stems from earth-of-earth-of-fire), is: to attain clarity of what exactly we want. That way, there will be a decrease in the situations that anger us, because when we are clear about what we want, the only situations that will get us angry will be situations that directly oppose our ratzon, and we won’t be getting angry at every situation where we feel opposed.
This is based upon the concept of “living in a clear world” (olam barur). It is an avodah to train ourselves to live in a “clear world”, to clarify what is taking place in our own inner world, where we become aware of what we really want.
In addition to this clarification process is an additional clarification to make, after we find ourselves getting angry. During the time of our actual anger, we cannot think rationally; the Sages state that when a person is angry, all wisdom leaves him. There is no yishuv hadaas (calmness of mind) when we are angry. Therefore we have to wait until the anger subsides a little, and then we can think calmly into what caused us to get angry; why exactly we felt opposed.
A person will get to know himself very well from these reflections. He will get to know what he wants, and he will realize that what thinks he “wants” isn’t that important to him as he had originally thought. It is just that when we are raging, we lose our senses and we cannot think clearly, so we aren’t able to realize that it’s not that worth it to get upset over.
Ask yourself what exactly you want, and after you have been in a situation where you got angry, ask yourself what exactly opposed you. You will see after this that a certain percentage of the anger will cease when these situations keep reappearing. This doesn’t mean you will never get angry again during these situations, but you will see a percentage of the anger go away, and your anger at these situations will be lessened, and the difference will be noticeable.
Another thing to ask yourself is: “How much do I want this thing that I want?” Usually, the cause for sudden explosions of anger in a person is when his actual ratzon has been opposed. Sometimes a person is aware of his actual ratzon before the anger awakened it, and sometimes it is anger that awakens the person’s intense ratzon. Either way, a person usually has an intense angry reaction when his actual ratzon is opposed.
Sometimes a person feels that he has been wronged by another person, and he gets a little upset, but he doesn’t get very angry. Then the same situation presents itself to the person again, and this time he’s a bit angrier than last time. Each time it happens, his anger gets stronger, and he develops a more intense kind of anger towards this situation that did not always bother him so much. It was because he didn’t really process what happened to him the first time, and slowly it dawns on him as time goes on about how he has been wronged, he absorbs what really transpired, and now he is angry at this situation when it takes place again. He wasn’t aware of his ratzon, and now he has become aware of his ratzon.
The anger feels sharper with the more a person becomes aware of his ratzon that is being opposed. When he is aware of his ratzon, combined with the awareness that his ratzon has been attacked, he will feel anger. If the ratzon isn’t attacked, he won’t get angry.
Therefore, becoming aware of one’s retzonos can decrease the situations that test his anger, limiting his anger only to situations that oppose his ratzon. This is the first step: clarifying what one really wants. The second step is to figure out how much you really want it.
In the second step, you will discover something simple that you never thought about until now: You do want it, but not as much as you thought. You will realize that the anger you feel in situations that test this ratzon of yours is not matching up to the intensity of the ratzon, so your anger at these situations will decrease.
Example of Mitigating Your Anger
Here is a simple example of how we can work on this: You are waiting at the bus stop, and the driver doesn’t make the stop for you. (Stories like this happen every day). Your natural reaction is to get angry. If a person has unrefined character, he will open his mouth and express his anger. If he is a bit more refined, he will remain silent and not show any anger, but he’s fuming over what has just happened and he’s thinking about the loss that he now faces. But instead of getting angry, he can simply try thinking: “Why didn’t the bus driver stop…?”
We do not know anything about the bus driver, and if perhaps he’s in a rush to get somewhere, and we view him as just a worker who has to do his job. We don’t recognize this bus driver, especially because we’re in a world where everyone treats each other as strangers, and we might view him as a person who has nothing to do in his life other than be a bus driver. So if we don’t recognize this person and why he didn’t make the stop, why should we get angry at him? He probably had some reason why he didn’t make the stop, and we have no idea. Why should we let ourselves seethe over this?
Of course, we have a ratzon to get onto the bus, and this ratzon has been opposed. But you can calm this ratzon by telling yourself that it will only take a few minutes to wait for the next bus. In other words, you can measure how much you want this ratzon. You will see that although you have the ratzon to get onto this bus, it is not as important to you as you thought, and it is definitely not worth getting upset over.
Thus, although anger is activated even when a minimal ratzon of ours is opposed, we also have the ability to lessen its intensity and its frequency, when we become aware of our ratzon and how much we want the ratzon.
Certainly, anger can stem from “boiling of the blood” as mentioned earlier, and it can also stem from an opposed ratzon, which is what we discussed here. In either case, while we are actually angry, we do not have the calmness to wonder where the anger is coming from. But after the anger has subsided and we are a bit calmer, we can now wonder how much we wanted the ratzon that we didn’t get, and then we discover that although we had a ratzon for a certain thing, the amount of anger we had over it doesn’t match up to the intensity of the ratzon and therefore it wasn’t worth it to get angry over this minimal ratzon we had.
There do exist some people who have no yishuv hadaas and they have no self-control over themselves, and for such people, this kind of reflection will not be that helpful to them. But when one lives a more thinking kind of life and he is interested in making regular self-accounting, he can try reflecting like this after he has gotten angry, and he will come to understand what exactly has awakened his anger, and he will also be able to calm the anger to a large extent.
Of course, it will take time to change. A person will still get angry at the old situations that bother him, but we can compare it to a pot of boiling water that takes some time until it is cooled and it becomes lukewarm.
We discussed here anger that stems from earth-of-earth-of-fire, which is an anger that results from despair. We explained that there are three forms of this kind of despair induced by anger: partial despair, total despair, and an anger that stems from an unclear ratzon in the person.
The avodah of fixing this particular kind of anger (and all anger in general), in the first step as we said, is to clarify one’s retzonos. One should know his retzonos both on a general level as well as on a more particular level. The second step applies after one has gotten angry and he has calmed down, where he should reflect: “What did I want, that I got upset about it? What exactly made me feel opposed? And how much did I want it?”
By getting used to this exercise, a large percentage of the anger will cease, when these same situations reappear.
Fixing ‘Total’ Despair Caused By Anger: Acquiring A More Mature Perspective Towards Life
The above solution will be able to weaken anger that causes despair on a partial level, such as when it causes us to despair on a particular ratzon we have or when it causes us to despair on some other retzonos we have. But how do we do deal with “total” despair that results from anger, where a person comes to feel that everything in his life is worthless, as a result of an unmet ratzon?
This problem does not affect most people and only a few people can relate to it, but we will briefly explain the avodah that is necessary for this, which is different than the earlier solution.
The less mature a person is, the more he sees things in one-dimensional terms, seeing only two sides. He weighs everything in terms of two sides facing each other, he sees things as either black or white, negative or positive, good or bad, etc. This is the result of living in katnus hadaas (smallness of mind; undeveloped mind). By contrast, the more a person matures, the more he sees how everything is multi-layered.
When a person lives in katnus (immaturity), he is apt to fall into total despair over his entire life when things don’t go his way, even over things that are not that are not of major concern. His entire life, and all of Creation, is deemed worthless to him, simply because something hasn’t worked out for him. But the more a person matures inwardly and he lives a more inner kind of life, a life of soul awareness – he realizes that life requires a step-by-step process, and his attitude of “all or nothing” ceases with time.
When a person has an “all or nothing” attitude, giving up on everything in his life when something frustrates him, this is a reaction, which usually stems from an immature view towards the world, where a person sees everything in extreme terms, seeing things in terms of black or white. We have explained elsewhere of how a person can leave this immature perspective.
This kind of total despair over everything in one’s life would make sense only if a very deep ratzon of the person was opposed, where a person feels like his essence has been attacked. This situation is different than the immature kind of anger-despair that we discussed above.
With this, we conclude our discussion of anger that stems from earth-of-earth-of-fire.
 in Hebrew, “resichas damim”
 משה is equal to 346, because מ is 40, ש is 300, and ה is 5,, plus the word itself is counted as 1, adding up to 346. The word רצון is equal to 346, because ר is 200, צ is 90, ו is 6, and נ is 50, adding up to 346. (Editor’s Note: There is a rule in gematria that a word itself is counted as 1, so משה is still equal to רצון.)
 astrological sign
 Rav Nachman of Bresslov said, “There is no such thing as despair in the world.”
 In response to a question in middle or this class, the Rav explained: All anger stems from a contradiction between the reality and the will of the person. If reality shows the persons that his will cannot be reached, the result is frustration\anger.
 lit. “settled mind”
 Refer to Fixing Your Wind #015 – Self-Absorption