Biblical Hebrew has many different words for “anger.” While Rabbeinu Efrayim counts eight such words, Rabbi Avraham Bedersi HaPenini counts ten such words, and Rabbi Shlomo of Urbino manages to find fifteen!
In this essay, we will unpack the list of words for “anger” and show how they are not all synonymous. Some of the words in question refer to different points on the wide spectrum that spans from “annoyed” to “incensed,” while others hone in on the object of one’s wrathful outrage. In exploring the etymologies and polysemous usages of just a few of these words, we will shed light on the nuanced differences among some of the words for anger in our list.
- Ka’as (I Sam. 1:6, Job 6:2) – This is the most common and generic word for anger. Rabbeinu Efrayim explains that this word is a metathesis of the Hebrew word eches (“poison”), because anger puts a sort of poison in a person’s heart. The Malbim writes that ka’as refers specifically to a form of anger than remains pent-up in one’s heart but is never brought out in the open through action.
- Cheimah (Isa. 27:4, Est. 7:10) – Rabbeinu Efrayim relates this word to the Hebrew word cham (“hot”), as an angry person gets “heated up.” Rabbi Bedersi supports this position by noting that we find the verb “burning” in regard to cheimah (Est. 1:12). He also notes that all the different terms for anger in the Bible only apply to human anger, except for the word cheimah which is also used to denote an animal’s anger (Deut. 32:33, Ps. 140:4, 58:5). The Malbim specifies that cheimah is a form of anger than is held in one’s heart for a long time, even without committing any specific acts of rage.
- Charon (Ezek. 7:12, Zech. 10:3) – Rabbeinu Efrayim relates this word to the Hebrew word chor (“hole”), as the heat of one’s burning anger pierces through one’s body. Rabbi Bedersi explains that charon denotes a greater wrath than cheimah because cheimah just means “hot,” while charon means “burnt” (see Ezek. 24:10). Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim departs from this trend, instead explaining charon as related to nechirim (“nostrils”), in reference to the angry person’s heightened exhaling of hot air. Fascinatingly, Peirush HaRokeach explains that the word charon on its own means “upset,” while charon-af refers to “anger.”
- Rogez (Job 3:17, II Kgs. 19:27) – In some places in the Bible, the word rogez refers to “shaking,” while in other places it refers to “fear.” Rabbeinu Efrayim explains the connection to “anger” in that an angry person’s entire body is aroused and roused by his anger, just like shaking and fear can consume an individual’s entire person. Rabbi Bedersi clarifies that rogez is not always associated with “anger,” as sometimes it refers to “shaking” out of fear rather out of anger. Peirush HaRokeach writes that rogez implies a form of “anger” whereby a person who was previously tranquil suddenly bursts into anger. The Malbim similarly writes that rogez refers to a sort of anger which harries the angry person and does not allow him respite to live in tranquility. Interestingly, the Yiddish term b’rogez in reference to two people who are in a fight is derived from this Hebrew word.
Additionally, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim ranks seven different words for anger in terms of how intensely angry one becomes: The simplest form of anger is called ka’as. If one’s anger reaches a point where his body starts shaking because of his fury, this is called za’am. When one’s anger causes his body to start heating up, this is called cheimah, and when one’s anger brings his blood to a boil, this is called charon. When a person’s fury has reached the boiling point and is even visible on his facial expression, this is called charon-af (because he exhales hot air through his nose). When one becomes so rabidly angry that a sort of white foam forms around his lips, this is called ketzef. When a person becomes so angry, that his body puffs up and becomes distended, this is called evrah (because this engorgement resembles a pregnant woman’s swelling).