What do we do with anger? How do we manage that emotion that can cause so much pain to our self and others? How often have we said or done something in the heat of anger, only to find ourselves wishing moments later that we could take everything back? This is the reality that we confront in the week’s double portion of Chukat-Balak. The texts are rich in stories, from the symbolism of the red heifer, to the mysterious and transformative story of Bilaam.
But we return to Numbers 20:9-13 and another confrontation between Moses and the reluctant Israelites who once again complain. Water they wish and Moses hears a divine message to take his staff and proceed to a rock. Yet, frustrated as he has become, he looses his temper and strikes this rock so that water emerges and the people drink. But God speaks to Moses and rebukes him for not having faith that God would provide. One can almost hear the anger in Moses’s voice, anger at these people who constantly complain. He snapped, and, his punishment–harsh to many–is that he shall not enter the Promised Land. No doubt the discussion on the punishment fitting the “crime” will take up sometime in your contemplations. But there is also a lesson on anger here.
Our tradition understood the power and potential for harm in this emotion. Pirke Avot reminded us that we should not attempt to comfort someone in the midst of their anger. Talmud reminds us that those who are unable to control their anger allows their wisdom to depart. Maimonides cautioned that one who gives in to anger is like an idolater. Rabbi Sacks, (z’l) in an essay on this portion writes that: “While in the grip of a hot temper, we lose the ability to step back and judge the possible consequences of our actions. The result is that in a moment of irascibility we can do or say things we may regret for the rest of our lives.”
So this Shabbat is it fitting that we ask ourselves how have we, in our life experiences, managed to deal with that very human emotion.Have we learned from past experiences? Or do we still act before we consider the consequences? How do we manage our anger now? Do we repress it, which can lead to bouts of depression? Are we able to “let go” and step back allowing the moment to pass? This story at the Waters of Meribah is all too real for many. How do each of us deal with our anger? How much of that anger from our past to we still hold on to?
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.