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Key Concepts of Mishlei 15-01 (Forbearance II)
A person with forbearance doesn’t let himself get provoked into anger. This concept was introduced in Segment 14-16. But what do you do when faced with verbal abuse by an angry person?
Mishlei encourages you to respond with a gentle reply. He suggests that this approach will even help dispell the kind of burning, inner anger that otherwise tends to be long-lasting.
In contrast, Mishlei strongly advises against a provocative, distressful remark for it may incite the kind of rage that leads to immediate, vengeful action on the part of the other person. Even though such rage is often superficial and temporary, it can trigger continued strife.
מַעֲנֶה רַּךְ יָשִׁיב חֵמָה וּדְבַר עֶצֶב יַעֲלֶה אָף:
A gentle answer dispells anger, but a distressing word stirs up rage. (15:1)
This proverb observes how a gentle answer calms anger in comparison with a provocative remark that stokes the fire of continued strife.
(א) מַעֲנֶה רַּךְ יָשִׁיב חֵמָה
וּדְבַר עֶצֶב יַעֲלֶה אָף:
A gentle answer — מַעֲנֶה רַּךְ is so calming that it even dispells intense inner anger — יָשִׁיב חֵמָה , but a distressing and provocative word — וּדְבַר עֶצֶב stirs up a rage — יַעֲלֶה אָף that is accompanied by the desire for immediate revenge.
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
(1) The term חֵמָה denotes intense inner anger, concealed from others, while אָף means a superficial rage, quickly expressed and dissipated.
(2) A gentle answer is effective in dealing with intense, inner anger (חֵמָה) , but when faced with visible rage (אָף) , it is best to follow the advice of the Gemara (Berachos 7a) and say nothing.
(3) A gentle answer involves admitting one’s mistakes or taking the blame for a difficult situation.
(4) A tzadik finds favor with Hashem by placating and pleasing Him with gentle and humble tefillos.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – מלבי”ם
(2) – שבט מיהודה
(3) – דעת סופרים
(4) – אלשיך