Two expressions, among many, ארך אפים - "long (slow) to anger" when describing one of G-d's qualities, and חרון אף - "anger" contain the word אף - nose.

Usually, when people get angry, they yell (voice) and the heart beats faster, and the face gets red. Other than in bulls shown in Looney Toons, I don't think I've seen anger affect the nose.

Why does Tana"ch use a term related to the nose when describing anger?

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    Your nose doesn't crinch up when your angry? Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 18:23
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    On the contrary, the clenching of the teeth and pursing of the lips in the expectation of confrontation is often accompanied by a flaring of the nostrils as you breath deeply through the nose. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 18:28

2 Answers 2


When someone is angry, their nostrils flare out (think of the classic cartoon of the angry dragon breathing fire). That is the allusion of the phrase.

To expand the idea a little, the idea is that anger affects the rate of breathing. It's a well-known strategy that breathing slowly helps you stay calm. Breathing rate is perhaps a more integral part of anger than facial expressions, etc. since it's subconscious and not easily faked. Additionally, breathing rate is directly correlated to heart rate, but only the rate of breathing can be observed by an onlooker.

On a Kabalistic level, anger is said to affect the neshama, which is connected to the breath of the nose. (The books of Mussar bring down that when a person angers, his neshama is on some level replaced with an impure spirit). Hence, another preference for using this aspect of anger over others.


א= Strength ף= mouth; אף= nose =anger We can see the picture painted by the Hebrew letters. The nose is the strength of the mouth, or we could equally say, “Anger is the strength of the mouth.” Anatomically speaking, the nose and mouth are connected. When we breathe, air passes through both passageways. Vocalists use the nasal cavity to create resonance, allowing their voices to be heard with more volume and added brightness. All that being said, for many of us, the mouth ‘flies off’ and flaps open when we become angry. Add to that what has already been said about the nostrils dilating when we are in a state of rage and it seems that the connection is not far-fetched.

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    How does א = Strength?
    – ezra
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 3:16
  • א=learn or teach Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 8:34
  • @ezra Maybe א=אלף=אלוף?
    – DonielF
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 11:26
  • Aleph is certainly teacher, and I propose he is more. There are many references to the strength of Aleph in Kabbalistic writings. It can be seen in the ancient pictograph, by the illustration of Aleph as the head of an ox—strong in its silence. Consider this excerpt from The Hebrew Alphabet, A Mystical Journey, “The sages regard Aleph as signifying that everything each of us accomplishes, however important in daily life, first emanates from stillness and silence. In Kabbalistic lore the Aleph is the outward, thrusting energy that seeds the cosmos.” Thank you all for engaging and challenging.
    – ruth
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 13:33

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