Anger and Wrath
אף וחמה

When something happens to us, we know that with respect to each of us individually and with respect to each of us collectively, there is no other power in the world other than the power of Hashem. To think otherwise would be dualistic. Thus even though we personally understand that each other person has free will, we understand that what happens to us is in essence coming from Hashem through the instrument of another person, group, or country, each of which, with respect to us, is serving as Hashem's agents.

Sometimes bad things happen to us. The Torah's language for a bad thing is evil. Evil, in this sense of the word, is something that we regard as bad for us. If we had to attribute an emotion to a man who acts in a way that intentionally pushes us away, rejecting us, and causes, typically in a rapid way, troubles and evil to us, we would expect to find the man to be hot-headed and we would say that the man is angry and furious.

When we push ourselves away from Hashem, when we separate ourselves from Hashem, even when we do this without realizing that this is in fact what we are doing, then we might perceive our resulting situation as Hashem pushing us away. For when Hashem acts in a way consistent with our separating ourselves from Hashem, then we say that evil has befallen us. When evil comes, the Torah speaks anthropormophically of Hashem's anger.

There are many reasons why we, by no choice of our own, must endure and live through the challenges and suffering associated with an evil that comes to us. However, our topic is not about suffering that we think has unjustly come our way. Our topic is to understand what the Torah means when the Torah associates anger and wrath to Hashem.

Listen to what Moses says to the Israelites before he dies,

I know that after I die, you will become corrupt and turn away from the path that I have prescribed to you. You will eventually be beset with evil, since you will have done evil in God's eyes, angering Him with the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 31.29)

Moses is teaching here a principle of spiritual reciprocity with regard to evil. If you do evil to Hashem, you will be eventually beset with evil. The evil that we do comes back to us.

The word the Torah uses that is here translated as angering is from the root כעס, which in the Torah is a weaker form of anger.

Listen to what the Torah says using the stronger terms אף וחמה, meaning anger and wrath.

A future generation, consisting of your descendants, who shall rise up after you, along with the stranger who shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses that the Lord has laid upon it; that the whole land is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that nothing can be planted and nothing can grow -- not even any grass can grow on it. It is like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath. All nations shall say, Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean? Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt; For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, something that was not their portion. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book; And the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger and in wrath, באף ובחמה, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.

The Biblical Hebrew word אף carries the meaning of anger on the one hand and nose on the other. Its syntatic plural אפים not only means nose, but also means face and does not carry the notion of a plural anger. There is a reason that Biblical Hebrew has the same word for nose and anger: when a person is angry, the person "fumes through the nose".

The Biblical Hebrew word חמה also carries dual meanings. Hot and warm on the one hand and fury, wrath, rage or blazing anger on the other. The phrase אף וחמה is typically translated as anger and wrath or anger and fury.

There are many instances in which the Torah anthropormorphically associates the phrase אף וחמה to Hashem. We know that any anthropomorphic terms that may be associated with Hashem must not be taken as literally applying to Him. We must understand them in the sense that the Torah speaks the language of the ordinary man. The emotion of anger when lived through and expressed by an ordinary man, is an existential rejection of and pushing away of that which the anger is against. We push away Hashem when we do not love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our everything. And if we love Hashem, then we will think, speak and act in accordance with the Torah guide for living He gave us. If we do not think, speak and act in accordance with the Torah guide for living He gave us, then we push Hashem away, separating ourselves from Hashem. The worst way to push away Hashem is to act in a way that worships idols. Idols are anything that we put as first ahead of Hashem. Idols can be the idols of various foreign deities. But they can also be the idols of pride and haughtiness, the idol of the lust for money or power etc.

Our rejection of Hashem inevitably causes what we perceive as Hashem's rejection of us. That rejection we understand as Hashem's anger and wrath, which the Zohar tells us are the names for the klipot of Gevurah and Tiferet.

Speaking to Ezekiel about the Israelites Hashem says,

Because you readied yourselves [for sin] more than the nations around you -- you did not follow My decrees, you did not fulfill My Laws; did did not even act according to the laws of the nations around you, ... A third part of you shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of you; and a third part shall fall by the sword around you; and I will scatter a third part to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I relieve my fury upon them, and I will be comforted; and they shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it in my zeal, when I have spent my fury in them. And I will make you a desolation, and a reproach among the nations that are around you, in the sight of all that pass by. And it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment to the nations that are around you, when I shall execute judgments in you in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I, the Lord, have spoken it. (Ezekiel 5:6 -14)

Hashem speaking to the prophet Mica says regarding the nations,

Your carved idols also I will cut off, and your pillars from your midst; and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands. And I will pluck up your Asherim from your midst; and I will destroy your cities. And I will execute vengeance in anger and in fury upon the nations, such as they have not heard. (Mica 5: 9-14.)