Preserving Our Souls By Avoiding Anger on Shabbos

Rabbi David Sutton October 6, 2018

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The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) tells of a man who bet his friend 400 zuz that he could make Hillel — the greatest sage of the generation — angry.


He passed by Hillel’s home on Friday afternoon while Hillel was bathing and called, “Where is Hillel?”


Hillel immediately covered himself and went out to greet the man.


“What do you need, my son?” Hillel asked.


“I have a question for you,” the man said.


“Ask, my son.”


The man asked Hillel about the shape of the Babylonians’ heads, and Hillel replied, “You’ve asked a very good question,” and proceeded to explain why the Babylonians’ heads are shaped that way.


The man left and then came back an hour later, when Hillel was still preparing for Shabbos. Once again, he called for Hillel, and this time, too, Hillel came out to greet him, and the man said he had a question. Hillel courteously invited him to ask, and the man asked him why the people of Tarmud have eyes that squint. Once again, Hillel complimented the man on the question, and answered that these people have squinty eyes because they live in sandy areas. An hour later, the man returned and asked Hillel why the people in Africa have wide legs. Hillel again said, “You’ve asked a very good question,” and explained that these people live in muddy areas.



The man then said, “I have many questions to ask you, but I am afraid that you will be angry.”


As Rabbi Ades explained, when a person is being bothered but remains in control and does not react angrily, he will likely become angry if somebody tells him, “I’m afraid you will be angry with me.” And yet, Hillel remained calm. The Gemara relates that Hillel said to the man, “Ask all the questions you have.”


“Are you Hillel, the one they call ‘Prince of Israel’?” the man asked.




“If you are really him, then may there not be more like you in Israel.”


“Why, my son?”


“Because you made me lose 400 zuz!”


“Be careful with your spirit,” Hillel replied. “It is worth it for you to lose 400 zuz and not have Hillel be angry.”



There are several important points to make regarding this story. First, it is worth noting that Hillel said it was worth losing that much money “and Hillel would not be makpid.” There is no precise English equivalent to the word מקפיד , makpid. It means not “anger,” but rather the experience of being bothered and troubled about something. Even if someone is not angry, he might be makpid — insistent — that people desist from minor annoyances such as making some sort of noise. Hillel was saying that it was worth losing money not only to avoid anger, but even to avoid being makpid — being insistent that things are done to his liking.


Secondly, we must understand what precisely Hillel meant when he said, “Be careful with your spirit.” Why does he refer to controlling anger as “being careful with your spirit”?


Rabbi Ades explained that Hillel here teaches us the secret to remaining calm and composed, and avoiding anger. The most precious and valuable commodity we have is our peace of mind. Hillel instructs us that we should care for and protect our ruach, our sense of calm and serenity, more than anything else we own. The Pele Yoetz gives the analogy of a person who burns a ten dollar bill in order to save one dollar. We should not “burn” our ruach, our peace of mind, for the sake of trivial, inconsequential concerns. Nothing in the world is worth losing our peace of mind over it. Hillel was telling this man that as he, the leader of the generation, impacts upon the entire generation, no amount of money would be worth getting him angry.


Indeed, the Arizal teaches that when a person becomes angry, toref nafsho b’ap, he “tears his soul in his anger.” He causes his soul to become a tereifah — sick and diseased like a terminally ill animal.


This is true every day of the week, but especially on Friday and Shabbos. Erev Shabbos is a busy, stressful time when people are prone to becoming angry. Moreover, the Satan makes a special effort on Friday to make people angry. On Shabbos we receive a neshamah yeseirah (an “extra soul”), and the Satan thus doubles its efforts to lead us to sin so we will taint both our ordinary soul and our special Shabbos soul. The secret to overcoming this challenge is to recognize the inestimable value of our ruach, of our spirit, and how it must be guarded and protected. It is not worth damaging it for anything in the world.



Many people have the custom to immerse in a mikveh on Erev Shabbos, and one of the reasons given is that the numerical value of mikveh is 151, which is one more than the numerical value of ka’as (150). Immersing in the mikveh has the power to lift a person above anger, and thus it is customary to immerse specifically on Erev Shabbos, in order to protect the neshamah yeseirah from the destructive effects of anger.


Let us take Hillel’s eternal message to heart, and learn to recognize and appreciate the great value of our soul, and this will motivate us to do whatever we can to avoid damaging it through anger — at all times, but especially on Shabbos.




Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton

ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.