God wrestles with His anger – Berakhot 7

R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer.

It is not said, ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer’; hence you learn that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers.

So God prays.  On one level we may read this as fanciful projection, a kind of anthropo-what, anthropopractice?

But one another level there’s something interesting here.  If prayer is simply presenting requests to the all powerful God then this makes no sense.  But if prayer is a confession of vulnerability, of fallibility, of neediness, then it makes more sense.  God is no more complete than we are, the Kabbalists tell us that that’s precisely why he created mankind.  God cries out because he senses his need, and we too cry out for the same reason, because we need to cry out, not because we know what happens to our cries.

And in the place of prayer, joy.  We may pray in distress, but somehow, in its wake, we are left with joy.

What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: ‘May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My other attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice’.

Wow.  God is indeed a tortured soul, wrestling with his anger, trying hard to find the compassion which might keep it in check.

God’s anger is a difficult concept, again, we are often tempted to view it as anthropopathy, the wrongful projection of our own failings.

Abraham Joshua Heschel takes a different view, something I found very pertinent this year on Tisha B’Av:

The wrath of God is a lamentation…God is not indifferent to evil.

He is always concerned, He is personally affected by what man does to man.

This is one of the meanings of the anger of God:  the end of indifference.  (The Prophets p365)

God’s anger speaks of the reality of the reaction against evil.  To not react is to be complicit, to embrace a genuine nihilism.  As long as we react, as we long as experience some sting in the face of injustice, there is hope, the Divine has not entirely left us.

And later on we see an awareness of the power and importance of this conscience:

R. Johanan further said in the name of R. Jose: Better is one self-reproach in the heart of a man than many lashes, for it is said: And she shall run after her lovers … then shall she say, I shall go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.

R. Simon b. Lakish says: It is better than a hundred lashes, for it is said: A rebuke enters deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred stripes into a fool.

The theme of anger continues, we are told that it is not wise to placate a person whilst he is in the throes of his anger.

A person’s anger is always a reaction to something.  Only once they have acted it out, experienced it, moved beyond it, can they begin to understand it.

What we don’t give expression to will always remain somewhat unconscious.  In therapy we try to bring things to life, only then can we analyse and understand them.

In a later discussion, there is the woeful suggestion that there is an explanation for the suffering of the righteous.  It pains me to report it, but the suggestion is that either they are being punished for the sins of their fathers, or that they are not in fact completely righteous.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am that Rabbi Meir rejects this opinion:

For R. Meir said: ‘And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious’, although he may not deserve it, ‘And I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy’,  although he may not deserve it.

The inscrutability of the Divine, of life as we know it, is left, respectfully, intact.

I suppose that in theory there is something noble in the insistence of justice in the world, in the conviction that the righteous can’t just suffer meaninglessly.  Maybe in theory.  In practice, it just comes across as grotesque, as an insult to everything that is true and good in life.

Leave a Reply