When a Tzaddik is Obligated to get Angry


Rabbi Reuven Mann
Dean - Masoret Institute


A careful and honest study of the Torah makes it absolutely clear that Judaism categorically rejects the possibility of “miracle workers”. In order to have a proper relationship with God, we must scrupulously avoid any attribution of “supernatural” power to mortals.


A fascinating episode in a recently read sedra (Vayetze) clearly illustrates this point. Rachel, who was childless, and envious of her sister Leah, pleaded with her husband to “give” her children or else she would die. Most of the commentators are puzzled with Jacob’s angry dismissal of his wife’s request. His lack of compassion and sensitivity to Rachel’s emotional distress seems incomprehensible. Very surprising, as well, is his display of anger which is an emotion which the righteous must always avoid except in matters pertaining to heaven.


We must pay attention to the words of Jacob for they go to the heart of the matter at issue. The pasuk says “Jacob’s anger flared up at Rachel and he said ‘Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?” The commentary of the Sforno is most illuminating. He says, “Jacob’s anger flared up for saying ‘Give me children’, implying that he had the power to do so. In his zeal for the honor of God, he disregarded his love for her.” Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz in the notes appended to his translation of the Sforno explains, “Jacob was angry with Rachel for saying “Give me” not “Pray for me”. The latter request would have been proper, the former was not since it implied that Jacob had the power to grant that which only God can give.....His great zeal for God’s honor, however, caused him to set aside his feelings of love for Rachel, for his love for God was greater.”


Jacob who ranks among the greatest of men displayed anger at any implication that he had the power to change the natural order of events. This type of overestimation of man violates the honor that is due exclusively to the Creator. The true tzaddik is the one, who like Yaakov Avinu, reacts with anger to even the slightest suggestion that he has transcended the bounds of human limitations and shares a power, which is exclusively that of the Creator.