Anger Management Through Hilchot Tefilla
“Don’t let your spirit be quick to anger.” (Kohelet 7:9)
May a person approach tefilla and Hashem while angry? This question arises in the halakhic discussion regarding kavanah (intention) in tefilla. These sources demonstrate a keen awareness of the range of human emotions and character traits and provide a model for thinking about anger today.
The mishna in Brachot teaches that ideally, one should approach tefilla with “כובד ראש,” gravity and that the first “chassidim” would prepare for an hour before prayer to focus their hearts and minds. The gemara (Brachot 31a) clarifies that it would be inappropriate to begin to daven from a place of excessive sorrow, laziness, laughter, chatter or frivolity and that one should try to “direct his/her heart,” in tefilla. Yet, the gemara also includes stories about rabbis who were sensitive to the challenge of having kavanah in tefilla. Rabbi Akiva would make his tefilla shorter when he davened with the tzibbur, so as not to burden their ability to concentrate (but when he davened alone, he would extend his tefillot greatly). Moreover, Rabbi Chiya, in the Talmud Yerushalmi, said he found it difficult to concentrate through all of tefilla. Based on these sources, the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch discuss how one should approach tefilla so as to have good kavanah and the status of tefilla if one loses concentration while praying. The Shulchan Aruch and Rema emphasize the importance of kavanah yet also acknowledge that people’s ability to concentrate has diminished (and this was before cell phones!).
One particular emotional state which the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch say will disrupt one’s ability to daven properly is anger. This is likely based on the gemara (Eruvin 65a) which teaches that when Rabbi Chanina was angry he would not even daven! By waiting to begin tefillah until the angry feeling has subsided, one learns that anger needs to be regulated and should not be brought along as we approach God in tefilla.
These sources demonstrate that anger is a trait which people have always grappled with and that naturally expresses itself in our relationship with God and others. The rabbis acknowledged the challenges of kavanah in tefilla and taught that feelings such as anger, which could be an obstacle for concentration, needed to be worked on. In today’s world, as expressions of anger and verbal and physical violence are sadly becoming more common and more extreme, hilchot tefilla provides a model which encourages tempering one’s anger before interacting with others.
1. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 98:2. Rema, Orach Chayim, 101:1.
2. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefila ve-Birkat Kohanim 4:18.
3. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 93:2.