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Making a Point or Making a Difference

07/08/2021 09:54:27 AM


Rabbi Ron Segal

A Talmudic verse in Pirkei Avot wisely counsels that one should not try to appease or placate a friend when they are at the height of anger. Fifteen hundred years ago, the sages of our tradition already understood that consuming anger impedes one’s ability to listen to reason and to act rationally. A lesson derived from words in this week’s Torah portion (Matot) in the book of Numbers further reinforces this timeless message.

After commanding the leaders of the army to completely avenge the Israelites against the Midianites, the Torah states “Moses became enraged with the officers of the army” (31:14) for failing to fulfill the command.  And then, only a few verses later, we read, “Then Elazar spoke to the men of the army that went to the battle…” (31:21).  Why is it now Elazar speaking to the people and not Moses?  The Rabbinic sage Resh Lakish explains: “Any person who is angry - if they are wise, their wisdom departs from them.” Enraged as he was, our teacher concludes, Moses’s wisdom departed.

During a recent lunch with a friend and fellow Sinai member, the subject of anger and the abusive manner in which it can unfortunately be directed at others arose as a topic of conversation. Acknowledging the challenge I often have in responding to personally directed anger, my lunch companion shared some impactful words and wisdom he had learned from another years earlier. When someone is speaking angrily to me or at me, my response is simple and usually disarming: “Do you want to make a point, or do you want to make a difference?

It is not difficult to appreciate how such a response could help to redirect a situation. While I pray it is wisdom none among us has to employ, it is surely counsel worth remembering until we have emerged from the divisive times in which we are living.  And no matter the extent to which our patience might be tried, may we always endeavor to speak and act in such a way that our wisdom endures.

Wed, December 1 2021 27 Kislev 5782