Anger: Avoid it at all Costs!
Moshe is finally done in by the requests of the Jewish people in the desert
– this time again for their water supply. In his exasperation about their
constant litany of complaints and grumblings, he transgresses over God’s
commandment to speak to the rock and instead he strikes the rock with his
staff. His punishment for this act is swift and dramatic. He will not step
into the Land of Israel but only be able to glimpse it from afar.
There are many questions and difficulties raised regarding the narrative of
this incident in the Torah. Firstly, complaints about the lack of water are
certainly legitimate complaints. Human beings cannot survive without water
and now that the miraculous well of Miriam disappeared with her passing, the
pressing need for a replacement water supply was obvious.
So, why does Moshe become so angry with them and describe them as a
rebellious mob? And another perhaps greater and more difficult question is
why this sin is the one that seals Moshe’s fate? Does the punishment really
seem to be commensurate with the crime? All of the commentators to Torah
over the ages have dealt with these two questions and have advanced a wide
variety of insights and explanations regarding the issues raised. It is
apparent that the Torah somehow wished these issues to be further explored
and studied and therefore it left its own description of the matter somewhat
vague and mysterious – hiding in the narrative more than it was willing to
Maimonides and other scholars throughout the ages see the events of this
week’s parsha as the concluding part of a continuing and cumulative pattern
of behavior, both on the part of the people of Israel in the desert and of
Moshe as well. Moshe realizes, as do the people, that they require water to
sustain them. But this request and the manner that it is presented to Moshe
is part of their long- running, nagging behavior pattern in the desert.
For the Jewish people, there is still a vestige of resentment against God
for redeeming them from Egypt. There they had water in abundance, and it was
natural not miraculous water. Miraculous water binds them to a commitment to
God and His Torah – a commitment that a portion of the people is always
attempting to wriggle out from.
With their seemingly reasonable request for water, Moshe senses all of this
background music. They really want to opt out of the entire mission of
Sinai, which results in Moshe’s extreme display of displeasure. And Moshe’s
anger again undoes him. There is an entire literature of rabbinic study
about the moments and causes of Moshe’s anger that appear throughout the Torah.
For Moshe, the greatest of all human beings, it is agreed that this is his
one failing. And, therefore, Moshe unwittingly becomes the model and example
of the dangers involved in falling into the pit of emotional anger. The
incidents of his anger – past and present - were now cumulatively judged by
Heaven and the punishment is not for this one incident alone. Anger is a
character trait to be avoided at almost all cost.
Rabbi Berel Wein