February 14, 2023

Nedarim 22

Today’s daf (Nedarim 22b) contains a teaching from Rabbah bar Rav Huna that, ‘whoever gets angry [indicates that] even the divine presence is not important before him (אינה חשובה כנגדו), as it says, “Someone involved in wickedness, at the height of their anger, [thinks] ‘He (i.e. God) will not seek’ (בַּל יִדְרֹשׁ) and all his thoughts convey that ‘there is no God’” (Tehillim 10:4).
Reflecting on this teaching, the Maharsha explains that in the heat of anger we lose the clarity of mind to reflect on what is really happening, and in that moment, while that person may think that God will not seek (בַּל יִדְרֹשׁ) answers to why they are behaving in that way, it is in fact they who are not taking the time to seek deep answers (בַּל יִדְרֹשׁ) to whatever is occurring in their life.
Moreover, based on the Gemara’s expression that, ‘even the divine presence is not important before him (אינה חשובה כנגדו)’, the Maharsha explains that this is because this individual has failed to maintain an awareness of God’s ever-present existence as derived from Tehillim 16:8 which states: שִׁוִּיתִי ה’ לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד – ‘I have placed God before me constantly’ (nb. note the used of the word כנגדו in the Gemara, and the used of the word לנגדי in the verse, which is the basis for the Maharsha choosing to cite this verse).
As we see further on in today’s daf where Rabbi Yirmiyah from Difti teaches that, ‘whoever gets angry forgets their Torah learning’, it is possible for someone to be learned in Torah who nevertheless gets angry. Still, what we learn from this teaching of Rabbah bar Rav Huna about someone who gets uncontrollably angry is that however learned they may be, such a person is lacking in their God-awareness.
For some people this statement may be obvious. Nevertheless, there are many who confuse Torah and God-awareness who think that the former automatically achieves the latter; but it doesn’t. And there are many who confuse Torah knowledge with middot tovot (good character traits) who think that the former automatically enables the latter; but it doesn’t.
Ultimately, while having middot tovot (good character traits) doesn’t necessarily make someone religious or spiritual, failings in good middot points to failings in one’s religious and spiritual personality. So if you want to be someone for whom the divine presence is important, it behoves you to behave in a way that reflects your consciousness of that presence.
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