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Anger and Kabbalah: Confronting Divine and Human Rage in the Zohar



Dr. Nathaniel Berman, Rabbi David Silber / December 2, 2020

Audio   Videos   Source Sheets  

The Bible portrays God as capable of catastrophically destructive anger, as well as infinite mercy. Rabbinic texts severely condemn human anger, comparing it to idolatry, while portraying God as engaged in an internal struggle with his own anger. In the Zohar, the central work of Kabbalah, anger plays a central role in the cosmic drama. Unrestrained divine anger can lead to the emergence of a demonic realm, ruled by the diabolical Sama’el and Lilith. Human action is required to appease divine anger and restrain the evil forces. How should we, in our turbulent time, understand these Jewish stances to this much-decried emotion?

Session 1: We are going to confront a theme that is both a central issue in Jewish thought and also, lamentably, an urgent issue for our time: anger. We will look at this theme through a variety of Jewish texts, including biblical, rabbinic, and kabbalistic texts, with an emphasis on the latter.

Tonight's class will introduce us to this theme -- key biblical and rabbinic texts, culminating in an excerpt from the Sefer Ha-Bahir, the "Book of Clarity," the first recognizably kabbalistic text, dating in its current form from the late 12th century.

Session 2: This class will have 3 parts: a brief introduction to the Zohar, a discussion of the divine anger in the aftermath of the Korach rebellion, and a Zoharic exploration of the power of incense to appease divine anger.

The Bible portrays God as capable of catastrophically destructive anger, as well as infinite mercy. Rabbinic texts severely condemn human anger, comparing it to idolatry, while portraying God as engaged in an internal struggle with his own anger. In the Zohar, the central work of Kabbalah, anger plays a central role in the cosmic drama.
 
Unrestrained divine anger can lead to the emergence of a demonic realm, ruled by the diabolical Sama’el and Lilith. Human action is required to appease divine anger and restrain the evil forces. How should we, in our turbulent time, understand these Jewish stances to this much-decried emotion?
 
Session 3: After studying some Zoharic perspectives on divine anger, we will turn to human anger. We will preface our discussions with condemnations of anger in the Rambam and Talmud, while noting an opening for "good anger" in one Talmudic discussion.
 
Then we will look at an extended passage in the Zohar that portrays anger as demonic possession -- and even declares that to look in the face of an angry person is tantamount to idolatry!
But it also leaves open the possibility of a "good anger" -- true to its maxim, אית רוגזא ואית רוגזא - "there is anger and there is anger".... We will also reflect on the relationship between conceptions of human and divine character.

Audio

Session 1 - 12/02/2020

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Session 2 - 12/09/2020

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Session 3 - 12/16/2020

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Session 4 - 12/23/2020

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Videos

Posted: 12/02/2020

Posted: 12/09/2020

Posted: 12/16/2020

Posted: 12/23/2020

Source Sheets

  Session 1 Posted: 12/02/2020
  Session 2 Posted: 12/09/2020
  Session 3 Posted: 12/16/2020
  Session 4 Posted: 12/23/2020

Dr. Nathaniel Berman

Nathaniel Berman holds the Rahel Varnhagen Chair at Brown University, where he teaches in the Religious Studies Department. Nathaniel’s writing and teaching span a number of disciplines. As a legal historian, his work has focused on the modern construction of the “nation” and “religion” in tandem with the “international.” He is the author of, among many other publications, Passion and Ambivalence: Nationalism, Colonialism, and International Law (Brill 2011). In Jewish Studies, his work has focused on classical kabbalah, particularly the Zohar. He has taught widely in this field in the New York area, as well as at Brown. His book, Divine and Demonic in the Poetic Mythology of the Zohar: The “Other Side” of Kabbalah, will be published this year by Brill. Nathaniel holds a J.D. from Harvard and a PhD in Jewish Studies from University College London.


 

Rabbi David Silber

David Silber is the founder and dean of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in New York and Israel. Rabbi Silber received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He is a recipient of the Covenant Award, for excellence in innovative Jewish education, and is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (Jewish Publication Society 2011) and For Such a Time as This: Biblical Reflections in the Book of Esther (Koren Publishers 2017). He is also a nationally acclaimed lecturer on the Bible. Rabbi Silber is married to Dr. Devora Steinmetz. They have eight children and live in New York City. Click here to access other recorded classes by David Silber.


 

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