Anger: The Enemy From Within
Moses is fuming with anger in this week’s Torah reading (Numbers 31:13). As a result of his rage, Moses forgets to instruct the people an important law regarding kosher food (Rashi on Numbers 31:21). This is not the first time that Moses “loses it” in the Torah, and as a result of his anger, Moses makes mistakes. A few weeks ago, we read about Moses hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, and addressing the people with anger, almost contemptuously, alluding to them with the words “Listen you rebels”.
A third time in which Moses became consumed with anger was during the inauguration of the tabernacle (see Leviticus 10:16). In that instance, Moses was enraged with two of Aaron’s sons, while mistakenly assuming that they brought forth the wrong sacrifice before the Almighty. In that case too, Moses was in the wrong.
On the one hand, when Moses reached peak moments of spiritual grandeur, the Torah states that his face was beaming with such intensity that the people were intimated and shied away from approaching him. On the other hand, when Moses was consumed with anger, he made error after error as a leader.
The Bible teaches in Ecclesiastes: “A man’s wisdom causes his face to shine”, and on the other hand, our sages teach: “He who becomes consumed with anger – his wisdom departs from him”.
In another instance, the Rabbis render uncontrollable rage spiritually comparable and analogous to idol worshipping, the worst spiritual sin a human being can commit. Maimonides, the great 12th century sage, was a proponent of moderation in all walks of life, following in the footsteps of his philosophical role model, the Greek philosopher Aristotle. But Maimonides insisted that there are two modes of being in which a person should not strive for the golden path of moderation, namely humility and anger. Maimonides reasons that with regard to cultivating humility, you can never overdo it, when it comes to keeping your ego in check. Secondly, asserts Maimonides, when it comes to anger, you can never be overly cautious and prudent about not letting it dictate your actions. At one point or another in our lives, unchecked anger can cause us to take actions that we later on bitterly regret, and it is because of one moment of uncontrollable anger and the hitting of the rock that the greatest of the great, the spiritual giant Moses, did not live to enter the Promised Land.
And if Moses, the greatest spiritual leader in Jewish history, failed to always keep his anger in check, how much more prudent and disciplined do we have to be when we are provoked, or when we erroneously jump to conclusions regarding other people’s actions, motives or objectives.
“Greater is the one who masters his temperament than a general who conquers a besieged city” teaches the Mishnah. And “Who is hero?” asks the Mishnah in another teaching, “The one who conquers his urge (to react)”. Hashem should give us the inner fortitude to attain ever higher and more evolved levels of self-control and emotional self-mastery, Amen.