The Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Anger unequivocally declare, “Anger is an evil trait. Just as scurvy (or in today’s age COVID-19) is a disease of the body, so anger is a disease of the soul… Anger blots out one’s concentration in prayer, and the Shechina (The Holy Presence) does not repose itself in the midst of anger. The angry person will not be very wise, for anger drives wisdom from one’s heart, so that he will not be able to answer correctly, and none of his words will be reasonable… Anger breeds arrogance in a person, and because of it he will not submit and will not acknowledge the truth… And one who is given to anger his life is no life (Pesachim 113b), and he is never happy. And since one is never happy, one does not accept what transpires with love and joy, one does not acknowledge the rightness of G-D’s justice with him and he cannot serve the Blessed One with joy. When a person is fasting or when he is beset by some affliction, he is more susceptible to anger. Therefore, he must be especially careful at such times nt to become angry.”
Yet, the haftorah for the first day of Rosh Hashana which discusses the birth of Shmuel HaNavi is read because on Rosh Hashana, God remembered [for childbirth] Sarah, Rachel, and Chana. (Rosh Hashana 11a). Chaza”l say that Peninah, Chana’s cowife, tzara,, taunted her by saying such things as, “Have you bought something new for your baby?” She meant to provoke Chana to pray but was punished for doing so in a cruel manner. And the Pesukim relate, “And her rival would frequently anger her, in order to make her complain, for Hashem had shut her womb. And so he [Elkanah] would do year by year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, so she would anger her, and she wept and would not eat… And Chana arose after eating and after drinking, and Eli the priest was sitting on the chair beside the doorpost of the Temple of the Hashem. And she was bitter in spirit, and she prayed to the Hashem, and wept. And she vowed a vow, and said: to Lord of Hosts, if You will look upon the affliction of Your bondswoman, and You will remember me, and You will not forget Your bondswoman and You will give Your bondswoman a man-child, and I shall give him to the Hashem all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head. And it was, as she prayed long before the Hashem, that Eli watched her mouth. But Chana, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, and her voice was not heard, and Eli thought her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her: Until when will you be drunk? Throw off your wine from upon yourself. And Chana answered and said: No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit, and neither new wine nor old wine have I drunk, and I poured out my soul before the Lord. Deliver not your bondswoman before the unscrupulous woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and my vexation have I spoken until now. And Eli answered and said: Go in peace, and the God of Israel will grant your request which you have asked of Him. And she said: May your bondswoman find favor in your eyes; and the woman went on her way and ate, and her face was not (sad) anymore” (Shmuel Alef 1:6-18).
The Ralbag relates that Chana was [seemingly understandably] angry because her Peninah angered her for she glorified herself with the fact that she had so many children and would degrade Chana for not having any children. It got to the point that Hannah was truly depressed and would not eat or drink and she poured out her prayers with heartfelt tears opposite the Holy of Holies. Eli the Kohen Gadol saw her moving her lips, but no voice was heard and so Eli thought that she was drunk. He even reprimanded her on being a drunkard and Chana responded, ‘No my master, the matter is not like what you think, rather I am very much mean spirited from so much fasting and anger over my bad mazel… I do not speak like this out of drunkenness but because of a need to pray to Hashem and because of the anger that my tzara has angered me so I speak in this way to cause my will to reach Hashem and to quiet the noise of my heart from the anger, for the anger has quieted down a tiny bit through speaking and relating about it,’ just as Chazal say, “Worry in one’s heart, one should talk about it to others” and in this fashion she calmed down from her rage and depression. Eli prophetically told her that her prayers would be answered, and she went on her way satisfied that her prayers would be answered and in fact they were. The rest is history. Shmuel HaNavi, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish History was born to her and her husband Elkanah. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This episode seems to be in contradiction with Orchos Tzadikim which says , anger blots out one’s concentration in prayer, and the Shechina (The Holy Presence) does not repose itself in the midst of anger,” however Chana seemed to have had so much focus and intensity in her prayers, while pouring out her tears towards the Heavenly Gate of Tears that her prayers were in fact answered. Yet she admitted that she was still in the throes of her anger which is why she looked like a drunkard while praying to Hashem. How could it be that her prayers were so focused with all that anger to the point that she was answered with such a tremendous gift as the merit to give birth to Shmuel HaNavi?
However, the Ralbag was in fact bothered by this issue and carefully acknowledged the problem. The Ralbag observed that when she first began to pray to Hashem she made an oath that if she would have a son he would be dedicated holy to Hashem, as a Nazirite for his entire life. That was her way of venting, of speaking out her troubles, and in this way she was able to take control of her anger instead of her anger and depression controlling her, and she was even able to use that anger to direct all her kavana, authentic intent, into beseeching Hashem to finally grant her a child; which He did.
There is an incredible lesson here in anger management, that it’s very healthy to vent and speak out to someone what is troubling you as apposed to holding in the anger and letting it take over your life. However on a much deeper level we also see the immense power we have over our emotions, for the emotion of anger, as we saw in the Orchos Tzadikim can completely control a person and utterly ruin his or her life but even with one small piece of speech one can change the tides and take control of his or her emotions to the point that they don’t just dissipate but they can be used for your own good.
Chaza”l say that the manner in which Chana prayed is the source of the silent devotion, the Amidah, that we say quietly to Hashem every day, multiple times a day, as well as many other Jewish laws that apply to prayer, (see Berachos 31a). We are coming upon the season of prayer with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are we prepared to focus all our energy into our prayers and take control of any anger and frustration (if any) built up over the year? Chana, even in her throes of anger made such an impact on history by just taking control of the situation; may she be an inspiration for our prayers this coming year.
May we all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!