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Anger: the Greatest Impediment

06/16/2021 09:32:11 AM

Jun16

Rabbi Ron Segal

While seated in the serene and beautiful setting of our Cooper Chapel earlier this week, a few of us were discussing personal spiritual life, noting various feelings, motions, and states of mind which effectively impede one’s spiritual health and wellbeing.  Sentiments such as distraction, impatience, discomfort, insecurity, being judgmental, and others were readily shared, including what, for me, is the most powerful spiritual block of all: anger. 

We see the consequences of explosive anger in this week’s Torah portion. When they found themselves without water, the people of Israel quarreled with Moses and Aaron: “Why did you bring us into this wilderness for us our beasts to die there?!  Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us to this wretched place... where there is no water to drink?!”  Distraught, Moses and Aaron went and fell before God, who said to Moses: “Take your rod and assemble the community, and before their eyes order the rock to yield its water, and you shall produce water for them from the rock for the congregation and their animals to drink.” Moses took the rod as God had commanded him. [However], he and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock and Moses exclaimed: “Listen you rebels! Shall we get water for you out of this rock?!” And then, Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.

But… to what end?  Moses ultimately achieved his aim of satisfying the people’s thirst. However, the consequence of his angrily striking the rock rather than speaking to it as God had directed is that Moses was denied the right to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, permitted only to see the land from across the Jordan River. 

An instructive passage in the Talmud offers us this timeless wisdom: “Rabbi Elai taught: In three matters a person’s true character is ascertained: in his cup (i.e. his behavior when he drinks); in his pocket (i.e. his conduct in his financial dealings with other people); and in his anger.”  (BT Eruvin).  This text, and this week’s Torah portion, invite us to stop and consider to what extent anger shapes or informs our character. Let us hope for ourselves and others and that anger never prevents us from realizing our greatest aspirations and potential.

Wed, December 1 2021 27 Kislev 5782