The Spiritual Fallout of Our Anger

Yael Eckstein  |  July 27, 2022

Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. — Numbers 31:14-15

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means “branches,” and Massei means “journeys.”

These days, there seems to be a lot of anger in the air. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that in the last few years, people seem angrier. And in some ways, it’s understandable. The past several years have been unprecedented.

It’s been an intense time, and we’ve had to deal with heated political debates, elections, the coronavirus, and all the issues surrounding the pandemic. Chances are, you’ve felt your buttons pushed at some point in the last year. I know I have! 

Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry.” Righteous people tend to get angry for the best of reasons. But even when our anger is sparked for good reasons, there can be spiritual fallout.

The sages in the Talmud taught, “When a person gives in to anger, if he is wise, his wisdom leaves him. If he is a prophet, his power of prophecy leaves him; if greatness was decreed for him from Heaven, anger will cause him to be degraded.” This is because when we are angry, we lose control of the clarity of our thinking.

The Spiritual Fallout of Our Anger

We see the spiritual fallout of righteous anger in this week’s Torah portion. We read in Numbers, “Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them.”

You see, the women of Midian had enticed and seduced the men of Israel into sin and idolatry. As a result, 24,000 Israelites died in a plague. God told Moses to exact revenge upon the Midianites for the damage they caused to Israel. In this war, the soldiers failed to fulfill God’s command.

But although Moses’ anger came from a righteous place, we see in the verses that follow that his spiritual status suffered. After Moses’ angry rebuke, we see Eleazar, the High Priest, instructing the people regarding the laws of purification of the vessels captured in the war. This is highly unusual. Throughout the Torah it is Moses who always gives instructions of law to the people.

The rabbis explain that Moses could not relay God’s command at this time because he had become angry and the Divine Presence necessary to relay God’s command was inaccessible to him.

If God’s Divine Presence can even depart from someone as highly respected as Moses, then it stands to reason that we should be careful to control our anger, even when it is for the right reasons.

Your Turn:

When you feel anger beginning to burn, take a deep breath, count to ten, and turn to God, who tells us, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

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