Fixing Your Fire - 014 Anger | Seething Anger & Calming Down
Water-of-Fire-of-Fire: ‘Dragged’ After The Anger
With siyata d’shmaya we continue here to discuss the element of fire and its resulting trait, anger. Currently we are up to discussing anger which stems from “water”-of-fire-of-fire. As mentioned earlier, this is when a person has a hard time letting go of the anger [because he has become too ‘dragged’ into it].
In the previous chapter, we discussed various kinds of anger in which a person had a specific reason which was bothering him and thus angering him; this would also cause a person to get ‘dragged’ into doing and saying hurtful things which are unrelated to the actual reason that had awakened the anger. Now we are talking about a different kind of anger, which we can recognize well: When a person becomes so angry that he has a hard time letting go of the situation. It is usually more common in older children, and, understandably, it also found in mature adults.
Some children can become so angry that they scream until they have no energy left. When a person cannot let go of what’s angering him, he might lock himself in a room and stay there for a long time. Eventually the person will calm down and return to normal (like when Achashveirosh’s anger subsided after some time). But there are some who deal with their intense anger by “sleeping” on the anger. By going to sleep, they feel somewhat calmed.
These are just examples of how a person may deal with intense anger; there are other possible reactions as well. The common denominator between all of these scenarios is that the anger gets so intense that the person feels dragged into it, more and more. It’s not that he’s finding more reason to get angry – it is rather that he keeps getting pulled further and further into the anger itself. He becomes ‘dragged’ into it, and it feels very hard for him to pull himself out of it.
Gaining Some Self-Control: Introduction
In general, when we want to solve problems of intense anger (fire-of-fire), the best element to apply for this is the element of water, which douses out fire. That is true in the general sense, but since we are explaining here in this chapter of how to deal with anger that stems particularly from water-of-fire-of-fire, we will focus here on the solutions that solve this kind of anger specifically. Therefore, with the help of Hashem, we will present several methods here of how a person can calm himself down when he’s angry.
Some of these solutions are mainly effective when it comes to dealing with anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire (when a person can’t let go of his intense anger that he’s feeling), and some of these solutions are general advice in conquering anger, which are also helpful in gaining self-control and inner calm. These techniques are essentially of how a person can become a better “baal nefesh” over himself - someone who can “own” his soul, by being able to gain some level of control himself even as he’s flying out of control.
Of course, while a person is raging, it is not possible to have perfect self-control over oneself. But one can still attain a certain amount of self-control over himself and be able to maintain his daas (logical mind) even as he’s very angry, and calm down somewhat, lessening the intensity of his anger and controlling himself as much as he can – even though he will still feel angry, of course.
Gaining self-control over oneself contains two parts. One part of it is to be able to direct the various natures in himself toward their proper uses, and a second part of it is to be able to stay calm (sheket). Just like we observe Shabbos in the time that is Shabbos, so is there a place of “Shabbos” in the soul – a place of menuchah (serenity), sheket (calmness), roga (tranquility) and shalvah (peace) where one can go to at times.
There are some people who were born with a natural balance in their souls. It comes natural to them to always stay centered within themselves, so they have an easier time remaining calm, relatively speaking. Others have a calmer nature because they have a strong amount of the element of “earth” in their souls. Others worked on themselves to attain this calmness and control over themselves, from within.
Anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire, as we explained, is an intense burst of anger, where a person loses control. The person is ‘dragged’ far into the anger, which is the ‘water’ within the fire-of-fire\intense anger, for just as water drags things with it, so is this person ‘dragged’ far into the anger to the point that he loses self-control.
How can a person gain some self-control as he’s in the midst of this intense anger? Let’s begin with the more basic methods of self-control, and as we progress, we will explain the deeper and higher methods.
Step One: Awareness, Pain, and Decision To Leave The Anger
1) The very first thing one needs to do, when he is enraged, is to become aware of the anger.
If a person just thinks “I’m very angry” due to a certain reason that is bothering him, then it will be very hard for him to calm down, because the reason that angered him is still in front of him. But when one becomes aware that his anger is stemming specifically from water-of-fire-of-fire – which we have explained as an anger that ‘drags’ a person far into the anger, to the point that his anger has now become irrational and unrelated to the original factor that he was angry about - he can be aware that he is not angry due to any particular reason right now, and he has simply become dragged too far into the anger.
The point is for him to become aware that there is nothing in particular which is causing the anger, and this awareness will aid him in wishing to come out of the anger, when he realizes that the anger is not justified.
Of course, all anger is somewhat irrational and unjustified, because all situations of anger cause a person to go too far. But in most other cases of anger, there is some kind of understandable reason that angered him in the first people, and it is therefore much harder to calm down from those kinds of anger, because the factor that angered him stills exists in front of him. But when one become aware that his anger stems from water-of-fire-of-fire, which is a reaction of anger that takes place after a person has gone too far into the anger, this very awareness is the first step that can help a person wish to come out of the anger, because he knows that he’s acting unreasonable right now.
2) The next step after this is to feel somewhat pained at this (and on a deeper note, this applies to all situations of anger as well, because a person can always feel pained at mere fact that he is angry), when he realizes that he’s acting unreasonable. It has to bother him when he realizes that his anger is currently unjustified, and upon feeling that pain, he will wish to come out of it.
3) Then, he should realize that he has the free will to choose to take his mind off it – by being willing to take certain actions that will take him out of the anger.
Technique #1 – Using The Power of Activity
Upon choosing to leave the anger, the next step is to take action. After one has chosen to come out of his anger, how indeed can how come out of it? He can choose to do certain activities which will cause him to take his mind off the situation; he should start doing lots of various activities which are unrelated to his anger. He should do anything that will take his mind off the situation, which will force him out of the anger. He should get busy with several activities or with some kind of activity that is very consuming.
In order for this to work, he has to have decided beforehand that he wants to leave the anger. If he doesn’t decide to leave the anger, he won’t do anything about it. After he has decided that he wants to leave the anger, and he knows that he is still burning with the anger, he can now get busy doing certain activities in order to take his mind off the anger. As he gets busy with something else, he will eventually succeed in attaining a hesech hadaas from the anger.
However, it can only work if a person chooses to do many activities, one after the other, which are all time-consuming, interesting, and engaging – the kinds of activities which can calm him and steer him away from the anger.
How does this work? It is because the nature of action (maaseh) is that it causes one to forget about what he was involved with before. To illustrate, Pharoah forced the Jewish people into difficult labor so that they would forget about their spiritual pursuits. He knew that their heavy involvement in action wouldn’t give them any frame of mind to think about anything important. From here we see that being involved in action causes a person to take his mind off things.
Technique #2 - Using The Power of Speech
A second method that help a person take his mind off anger is through making use of the power of speech. When one speaks with others, he is able to have a hesech hadaas (taking his mind off) from what he was involved with until now, by steering his mind to different topics, as he talks about various things that interest him.
For example, Chazal say that “if one has a worry in his heart, he should speak of it to others” – but this is only if a person knows speaking about it to others will relieve him. Usually when people talk with others of something that they’re angry about, their anger only becomes fueled even more. Sometimes, however, venting anger to a friend can be helpful in calming the anger, because it releases the negativity that he’s feeling and it feels to him like freedom.
However, one needs to discern his situation very well in order to know which course of action to take. Will venting his anger to another person fuel his anger even more, or will he feel calmed from it?
Usually it is detrimental to speak to another about the anger. If a person feels like he has calmed down somewhat from the anger and he just wants to unburden himself to another of any remaining anger he still feels, then he may do so. But if he is feeling intense anger and he hasn’t yet calmed down and he’s still feeling the anger in its full force, and he hasn’t yet decided that he wants to come out of the anger - then usually, talking about it to another will only make him feel angrier.
If he wants to come out of the anger and he thinks that speaking to another person about his anger will calm him down, then it can be helpful to release the anger (that is, on condition that he is observing the laws of proper speech). But if he hasn’t yet made the decision to come out of the anger (because the anger is intense and he still feels it in its full force), venting his feelings to another will only worsen the anger.
What, then, should he do? He should find someone to chat with about various interesting topics, which will take his mind off the anger; and he should engage in an interesting conversation with the person, doing so for 30 minutes or an hour (each person is different when it comes to how much he needs to talk in order to be calmed), until the anger eventually subsides. He should make sure, of course, that he doesn’t talk lashon hora or other kinds of forbidden speech with the person. The point is to talk about all kinds of different things that will take his mind off what he’s angry about.
In most situations, we recommend that a person not talk about the anger with another person. It usually doesn’t calm a person down and it just serves to fuel the anger even more. When most people talk about their anger with another, they have a hard time controlling themselves and they become even angrier as they’re venting. Therefore, the suggested method that can help is to try to talk about various interesting topics with another, and to keep talking to the person, until a person calms down.
Of course, if someone is on a higher level, he can get involved with the “speech” of learning Torah, if he thinks that will calm him. But this will only work for men, and not for women, who do not learn Torah in-depth. It also won’t help a person that much if he busies himself with saying Tehillim. This is because when a person is angry, his soul is in turmoil, and the soul will not feel calmed unless he talks to another person.
Therefore, when one is very angry, he should take his mind off it by calling someone to chat with about all kinds of different things, until he eventually calms down.
Technique #3: Get Involved With A Strong Emotion
There is also an additional method one can use to take his mind off the anger, as follows.
A) Awaken Your Strongest Emotion. If you have a strong, positive middah (character trait or emotion) in yourself that you recognize - whether it is love or some other another strong, positive emotion you recognize in yourself. By getting involved with another strong emotion, you are able to steer your emotions away from the anger. If you can awaken a love for something holy, that is even better, but even if it’s just a love for something mundane, it can also be helpful.
Normally we do not encourage awakening a love that isn’t about something holy, but if it will help calm down anger, it is constructive, in this particular case; sometimes we have to use a ‘bitter’ solution in order to get rid of a ‘bitterness’ that’s worse). It doesn’t have to be love; if one has a strong hatred for something (we are talking about something that is permitted to hate, and not something that it is forbidden to hate), one can also try awakening that strong emotion of hatred, if it will steer his emotions away from what’s he angry about right now. Whatever emotion a person decides to awaken, the point is to get involved with a different strong emotion that can steer his intense emotions away from the anger.
However, when most people are experiencing the intense of anger of water-of-fire-fire, this method is usually not feasible. If he is a child, he is not in touch with his soul yet, and if he is an adult who has this kind of anger, his anger is probably so strong that he doesn’t have any other emotion in himself that can compete with the intensity of his anger. But if someone does recognize in himself a strong emotion that he thinks can steer him away from intense anger, he should certainly try awakening that emotion, if he thinks it will help him calm down.
B) Remembering An Emotional Event. Even if someone doesn’t possess another emotion that is as strong as his anger, he can still try remembering a very emotional event in his life that stands out in his memory.
In either of the above two scenarios, the point is to create a different “storm” in oneself to counter the “storm” of anger that he’s feeling. When a person is feeling intense anger, it usually doesn’t help to try doing something quiet and calm, because when he feels stormy inside, he will not feel like making the transition from storminess to quietness. Instead, he should get involved with something ‘stormy’ – an intense emotion or memory which will help him take his mind off the anger.
C) Viewing Pictures or Hearing Something That Evokes Emotion. Alternatively, one can try looking at pictures which awaken powerful emotional experiences, or he can listen to something [i.e. music, a song, or a shiur] which reminds him of something very emotional.
The point of any of the above methods is so that a person can create a different emotional ‘storm’ inside himself that can counter the ‘storm’ of anger he is in, which can aid a person in taking his mind off the anger. Understandably, this method is not the holiest solution out there, because we usually do not encourage awakening ‘stormy’ feelings and experiences, which may open the door to other problems. Normally, one should not deliberately engage in such activities. But when feeling intense anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire, this method may be used - to a certain extent.
Technique #4 - Using The Physical Senses: Taste
Another method that one can use, in order to steer the mind and emotions away from anger, is to get involved with one of the physical senses (taste, smell, hearing, and sight). First, we will explain how a person can make use of the sense of taste, in order to calm down from anger.
A) Eating. One can try tasting certain foods, in order to take his mind off the anger. At times, when one is feeling and intense, stormy kind anger, he should keep eating a lot of food. This is a method which should be used sensibly, or else it becomes dangerous.
This is an extreme method to use, and it is normally not the kind of behavior we encourage. In general, whenever we deal with anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire, we need to use more extreme methods, because we are dealing with a more extreme kind of anger. Many of the methods contained in this chapter, as well as in the previous chapter and the next two chapters, are not for all people to use, and they should only be used in situations where one is feeling intense, stormy anger.
So when one is trying to calm down a stormy kind of anger, he can try eating and eating, until his anger calms down. Again, this method contains a danger, and it needs to be used sensibly.
B) Tasting. There is also an alternative method in how to use the sense of taste, which is not as extreme as the above one: a person can keep tasting different things, until he calms down. One should pick certain foods and nosh that he enjoys tasting, so that he can have a wide array of things to taste in order to calm himself down when he’s angry. When using this method (eating or tasting), one should be sensible about it, and he should also daven to Hashem for help that he shouldn’t fall into the evil trait of gluttony.
How does taste calm down anger? There are two parts here, which we mentioned earlier [in the first chapter]. Sometimes, a person’s anger is being fueled by two factors. Part of the anger may be stemming from the heart, and part of the anger may be stemming from the nerves. Sometimes the anger begins in the heart and it spreads to the nerves, and sometimes it begins in the nerves and spreads into the heart. The sense of taste, to a certain extent, can calm each of these factors. Taste can calm the nerves, and it can also calm the heart somewhat. But it can only work if a person tastes something that is particularly fond to him and which calms him.
This helps a person ‘drag’ himself away from the intense, ongoing anger of water-of-fire-of-fire that he had become ‘dragged’ into.
Technique #5: Using The Physical Senses: Smell
Now we will explain how one can use the sense of smell to calm down anger.
A) Scent. One can try smelling besamim, inhaling the scent deeply. The sense of smell can be greatly calming to the soul.
Once again, a person has to make sure not to get too carried away with smelling things too much. But to a certain extent, one can try getting used to smelling things that are pleasant to smell, in order to gain a degree of calmness. One should try to get used to smelling pleasant things on a regular basis, allowing himself inhale the scent, slowly, deeply, and calmly. He should allow the scent to enter him deeply as he inhales and breathes it in, and this creates a certain calming effect. It is hard to describe this in words, but a person can keep deepening the inhale, smelling it more deeply each time, until he feels a certain feeling of calmness.
B) Breathing. Alternatively, even if a person doesn’t have something pleasant in front of him to smell, one can deepen his breathing, by focusing on his inhale and exhale. If one gets used to practicing this on a regular basis, he will become a calmer person in general, and he will have an easier time with anger when it sets in.
We know that when a person is angry, his breathing rate changes dramatically, and it can get thrown out of balance to the point that a person may even have a heart attack. By working with our breath on a regular basis, through getting used to deeply inhaling and exhaling the air, a certain calmness results, and then we are better equipped to deal with anger. We will automatically feel how the anger is throwing our breathing rate out of balance, and we will quickly want to get our breathing back to normal, when we are angered. So improving our breathing will motivate us greatly to leave the anger.
It would seem that improving our breathing has nothing to do with conquering anger. But when we reflect into this, we can see that there’s a strong relationship between breathing and anger.
Technique #6: Using The Physical Senses: Hearing
Another sense that one can use in order to take his mind off anger is the sense of hearing.
When a person is very angry, it won’t be that helpful to immediately go to a quiet place and try to calm down. It’s very hard to make the transition from noise to quietness. Usually when there is noise, we need to counter it with some other kind of noise. That is why it is usually hard for a person to suddenly leave his anger by trying to quiet down the outside stimuli.
If the anger isn’t so intense, or if he an affinity for certain quiet, deep niggunim (Jewish songs) that he likes to listen to, then he should try listening to those songs, and he’ll be able to calm down. However, this is usually not that effective when trying to calm down from anger. As we said, it depends on two factors together – it can only work if the anger isn’t that intense, and if he has an affinity for niggunim that are quiet and calming. But if a person is going through intense anger, or if he doesn’t like quiet and calm niggunim that much, then the advice for him is to try listening to louder kinds of music - which can jolt him out of his anger.
Understandably, this does not include listening to non-Jewish songs. Anyone who cares for his soul should run away 500 amos from it. We only mean certain “loud” and lively Jewish songs which are closer to kedushah (holiness). Of course, nothing [today] is totally found in kedushah. But there are certain loud, lively niggunim which can awaken the kedushah in a Jew’s soul. In this way, we exchange the ‘noise’ of anger for the ‘noise’ of song, enabling us to calm down from anger. (This only calms down anger specifically – it does not bring total calmness (sheket) to the soul).
As with the other methods, one also needs to go about this sensibly, and he should not go overboard with it. Sometimes a person doesn’t really have much of a choice, though, if this will be the only thing that calms him down from his intense anger, because extreme anger needs to be countered with some kind of extreme noise. At first a person may find that only very lively and loud songs can counter his intense anger, and eventually, he should try to lessen the tone a bit, so that he can come out of that extreme and come to a more balanced approach, where he won’t have to turn out such lively music in order to calm down.
Technique #7: Using The Physical Senses: Sight
A) Physical Sight.One can also use the sense of sight in order to calm down from anger. One can look at something calming, such as a picture that he likes to look at. Or, he can try looking at the waves of the ocean, or at the sky. (Looking at the ocean waves and the sky are both methods that are brought in the Gemara).
However, one must make that concentrating on these sights isn’t causing him to have more of a desire for This World. If looking at certain things will awaken certain memories that are detrimental to think about, he should avoid looking at those things. It that condition is met, one can try concentrating and focusing on calming sights to look at.
The better a person can concentrate and reflect deeply on something he looks at (it is better to try this with something holy, such as looking at one’s tzitzis), the better he can make use of this method. We are not talking about a mere superficial glance at something, but a kind of sight where a person deeply concentrates and connects himself to what he is seeing.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of sights. There are physical sights which are simply calming to look at, and there is a kind of sight where one can deeply connect to something, through his daas (mind), by way of the physical eyes. The eyes can connect us to something; it is written, “For with an eye and an eye they will see, the return to Zion.”
If a person is experiencing anger that isn’t that intense, he can try looking at calming sights, similar to the method of listening to calm and quiet songs mentioned above. But when a person is feeling intense anger and he wants to use the sense of sight to counter it, he should use the second method mentioned here, which is to concentrate deeply on something that he is seeing. In this way, the ‘intensity’ of the anger can be replaced by the ‘intensity’ of deep concentration on something.
B) Thought. So far we have addressed the physical use of our sense of sight, but there is also an inner use of our sense of sight: the powers of thought and imagination.
When it comes to using our power of thought itself, there are two different ways of how our thoughts can “see” something and then we are calmed.
1) Thinking About A Pleasant Thought. One way is to think about certain pleasant and calming thoughts. This will only be effective, however, if a person’s anger is not that intense, because it is a quieter kind of solution, which can only counter a quieter kind of anger. If that is the case, a person should think about certain thoughts that he finds pleasant to think about. Each person is different when it comes to this. For some people, it is calming to remember an event in their life that was pleasant.
2) In-Depth Torah Learning. Another way of how our thoughts can “see” something calming – and this is the main solution one should try to use, for someone who can do this – is, that when one is the intense kind of anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire, he can immerse himself in in-depth Torah study. This is the depth behind what is written, “If not for the Torah my delight, I would go insane in my suffering.” The enjoyment that a person can find in Torah study can be so calming that it can totally make a person take his mind off any anger.
The more a person can deeply connect, on a regular basis, to a certain Torah thought, immersing his mind in it in-depth - he will be able to totally forget about anything bothering him, whether it is something that is agonizing him, or something that is frivolous, or something that is forbidden to think about; there are an endless amount of things that may bother us.
Sometimes a person can do this when he just learns with a cursory reading of the Gemara (bekiyus), but it is mainly accomplished through learning with iyun (in-depth analysis), which enables one’s soul to deeply connect to his Torah learning.
This enables one to attain a total hesech hadaas (to take the mind off bothersome thoughts) and to disconnect from any outside stimuli. This is especially the case when dealing with the intense anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire, where a person has become so pulled into the anger that he finds it difficult to leave it. If one has strong mental abilities and he is on the level of throwing himself into in-depth learning of a sugya of Gemara, doing so will make him leave behind his intense anger. Many times when people do this, they don’t even remember afterwards that they were ever angry in the first place.
If one can decide to do this - and if he is on the level of doing so – then he is using the deepest and the most complete method in conquering intense anger. It totally removes a person from any outside stimuli, removing him from intense anger that he had been feeling beforehand, which stems from water-of-fire-of-fire.
3) Remembering An Interesting Dvar Torah. If one feels that learning Torah in-depth is not practical for him to do when he’s very angry, he can try remembering all of the many different interesting Torah thoughts he may have heard from others.
4) Putting The Mind To Work. If that won’t work for him, he can try getting involved with various calculations in his thoughts that can take his mind off things. It can even be about worldly and mundane calculations to think about, which are permissible to think about even as one is the restroom. It’s better if these calculations are about communal matters, which are a mitzvah to be involved in. Thinking into these details can help a person calm down somewhat, from whatever he’s angry about.
There is more to say about how to use the power of thought, but as a general point, one can enter into a thought that is deeply consuming or interesting to him, which will help take his mind off anything that’s bothering him right now.
C) Imagination. The above all concerns the power of thought; now we will explain how we use our other mental power which can “see” things, in a way that can calm us down: the power of imagination.
The power of imagination is a more expansive topic, which needs much guidance in how to use correctly. Before we learn about how to use it, we must be aware of the following prerequisite. If a person knows that he has a tendency to fantasize about things that are forbidden to imagine about (or anything which borderlines on ‘forbidden’), then he should not get involved with his imagination at all. But if a person does not have a detrimental imagination like this, he may imagination something that is pleasant and calming, in order to calm down from anger.
Understandably, if one uses the imagination too much, he will become a more delusional person. But if he makes sure to keep himself balanced with the other areas in his soul, he will be able to gain from the calmness that can be attained from imagining things that are pleasant. One can imagine the waves of the ocean or anything that he finds calming to think about.
A Note Regarding All of the Above Methods
Some of the methods mentioned here can be used in all situations of anger, not just the intense kind of anger that stems from water-of-fire-of-fire. The common denominator between all of these methods is that they should be used sensibly, minimally, and on a temporary basis, and then they can be effective in calming down anger.
The secret of success in life depends on having a calm soul.
It might appear to us that success in life depends mainly on how much exertion and effort you put into things. Exertion certainly plays an important part in our life; we know from many statements of Chazal about the importance of exertion [in Torah learning, and in life in general]. But life is not entirely based on exertion. We also need some menuchah (serenity), in order to be able to have exertion.
The Torah praises Yissocher for being like a donkey that bears the yoke of Torah upon him like a heavy load that he is willing to carry until he is exhausted, but the end of the verse regarding Yissocher says, “And he saw that serenity was good.” Only when there is a regard for serenity can one properly have exertion. Exertion is detrimental when it causes a person to lose his serenity; the exertion must be preceded with a degree of serenity, and then the exertion will prove successful.
The more a person is more of a baal nefesh (one who “owns” his soul), as mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, and he recognizes the abilities in his soul, he is able to better direct his soul abilities properly, even as he finds himself amidst intense anger; he is able to gain some self-control. Of course, there is no such thing as always being able to have perfect self-control and to be perfectly calm, as one is in the midst of intense anger. But a large part of our life requires some degree of calmness, where the soul can remain in its pure, calm state.
The more a person can maintain his calmness as he’s angry (understandably, this does not get rid of anger entirely) and he regularly makes use of the methods explained in this chapter (in addition to other methods which we will soon mention in the coming chapters), he will learn how to calm down his angry soul, and even more so, he will then find the root of the soul’s energy, which is menuchah (serenity). Sometimes a person is taken out of his serenity due to various events in his life that jolt him, and that is fine, but as a general way to live, one needs a basic level of serenity, which we refer to in the Shabbos Minchah prayer as “menuchas hashket v’betach” (a serenity that is calming and reassuring).
 Refer to the Rav’s series on imagination, Getting To Your Imagination (דע את דמיונך)
 After delivering this class, the Rav was asked: “If a person has problems with rage and he wants to calm down, should he take pills?”
The Rav first responded (humorously): “We don’t need to go to any shiurim then – we should just give out pills to everyone.” The Rav then continued: “Taking pills in order to calm down – it depends. Some pills are made from natural herbs which are meant to aid the body’s health, and that’s different [it’s okay]. But if they are pills that calm a person’s emotional state, one must carefully consider whether he should go down that road or not. Usually when people take pills in order to ease their emotional issues, they have basically decided to work only with their body and not from within themselves. It is living like an animal; animals also get angry [and they can also be calmed with tranquilizing drugs…]. There are a considerable amount of people in our generation today who aren’t interested in working on themselves through the path of avodah (inner work) and therefore they work on themselves entirely through the body; they attempt to change their inner character by working directly with the body. Can we say that this doesn’t work? Of course it can work - it is possible to cause changes in the soul by working with the body, because the body and the soul are interconnected. There is a definitely a part of our avodah to work with our body, but we also have to work directly with our middos (internal character traits) themselves.Now, if a person has such bad middos that he can’t function properly unless he takes pills, then he may do so on a temporary basis and take pills to calm his body.”
At a later point the Rav added on (in response to a different question, soon after the above question was asked): “When a person wants to be an oived Hashem (one who serves the Creator), but he wants do so through working with the body alone, this is contradictory behavior. He is searching to build his spiritual state but he is trying to do so through his physical body alone. This is a way that comes from the gentiles and it is only meant to be used by gentiles, and for the most part, it can only work for gentiles. In certain extreme situations, it may be used by a Jew who has fallen very low that for the time being, his life right now resembles a level that is very close to a gentile’s way of living.”