Rabbi Eliezer says: “. . . Do not be easy to anger.” (Avot 2:10)

Anger is one of the traits most condemned in Jewish literature. “Someone who gets angry,” we are told, “is like one who worships idols.” 1 Anger can cause a sage to lose his wisdom, or a person who is destined for greatness to forfeit it.2

It’s not hard to see why. When we get angry, we tend to act irrationally. Things said or done in anger are almost always destructive and cause for later regret.

Everyone gets angry occasionally, but some people are more prone to anger than others. They may have a “short fuse” and blow up over small things, or they may be chronically irritable. However it is manifested, anger that is not dealt with in a healthy way is dangerous for the angry person and for those close to him or her.

Dealing with anger is a lifelong challenge, but the results are unquestionably worth it. A person who learns to control, or at least reduce, his anger will be surprised by how greatly his life and relationships improve—at home and at work.

In the letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, there are several pieces of advice about dealing with anger. The Rebbe’s guidance ranges from simple, practical suggestions to more advanced meditations that address the root causes of our anger. Below is a loose adaptation of some of these, to study and hopefully put into practice.

A Simple Recommendation: Wait!

The Rebbe writes:

Regarding what you wrote about the traits of anger and pride: As with anything else, the way to correct these is step by step.

The first step is to wait. Don’t express your anger or pride verbally. In this way, those emotions will not gain momentum, as can be seen in practice . . .3

If you feel yourself getting angry, stop, take a deep breath and wait a minute before you react. The anger may dissipate when the heat of the moment has passed.

Someone Is Watching

Another bit of advice, found in Tanya, is to remember Who is watching us when we get angry.

In 5717 (1957), the Rebbe wrote to a young student:

In answer to your letter . . . in which you write that you sometimes suffer from the trait of anger:

You should learn by heart the first part of ch. 41 of Tanya, from the beginning of the chapter to p. 112, second line, “. . . before the king.”

Also, ask your teacher to explain to you the general outline of Iggeret Hakodesh, Epistle 25.

When you feel yourself beginning to get angry, review by heart the beginning of ch. 41 and think about the summary of the epistle; as you get used to doing this, your situation will continue to improve.4

In chapter 41, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that we must constantly remember that the Creator of the world is watching at every moment: “Behold, G‑d stands over him, and the whole world is full of His glory, and He looks upon him and examines his conscience and heart [to see] if he is serving Him as is fitting.”

Somehow, it’s easier to hang onto our self-control when we know that someone is watching. And the truth is, Someone is always watching. This idea is useful for dealing with most negative traits and behaviors. For more on this, and to study Chapter 41 in depth, visit our Tanya site.

Remember the Consequences

Here’s a practical piece of advice that is fairly easy to follow: If we realize that our anger has consequences, we will think and behave differently.

The Rebbe writes to a young woman:

Keep the mitzvah found in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], that if you hurt someone’s feelings—even out of anger—you must apologize in person and ask for complete forgiveness.

It is by nature difficult for a person to apologize. Nevertheless, you should overcome that difficulty and do it.

In that way, every time you are about to get angry, you will remember that afterwards you will have to brace yourself and ask for forgiveness… That itself will help you weaken your tendency towards anger.5

Remember Who’s in Charge

Finally, there is one idea that, when understood and employed properly, can uproot anger at its source.

As we saw above, the Rebbe often advised people who struggled with this issue to study Epistle 25 of Iggeret Hakodesh, found in the last section of Tanya.6 There the Alter Rebbe explains why anger is compared to idolatry. Granted, anger is a negative trait, but how can it be compared to idol worship?

The Alter Rebbe puts it like this:

The reason is clear to those that have understanding: because at the time of his anger, faith has departed from him.7 For were he to believe that what happened to him is of G‑d’s doing, he would not become angry at all.

And though it is a person possessed of free choice who is cursing him, or hitting him, or causing damage to his money, and therefore is guilty according to the laws of man and the laws of Heaven for having chosen evil—nevertheless, as regards the person harmed—this was already decreed from Heaven, and “the Omnipresent has many deputies.”

Getting angry means you don’t have faith that what’s happening to you is really coming from G‑d. The person you’re angry at is just a messenger. Now, obviously, he or she still had free choice, and will be held accountable. But getting angry is not the answer. Rather than asking, “Why is this person hurting me?” ask a bigger question: “What is G‑d trying to tell me in this moment?”

Making these ideas part of your consciousness is the work of a lifetime. Here are some links to get you started: Epistle 25 of Iggeret Hakodesh, Jay Litvin’s meditations on anger, Anger Management 101, and Angry with G‑d.