There are people who say they never get angry. I don't believe them. Everyone
gets angry. You know how I can be sure of this? Well, we are made b'tzelem
Elokim, in the image of Gd. And guess what? Gd gets angry! Gd does things like
opening the ground to swallow sinner, flooding the whole planet, zapping Nadav
and Avihu into toast, striking Miriam with disease, wiping out Sodom and
Gomorrah, destroying the tower at Bavel, and, well, the list goes on.
Now, you might say, it says right here in this parasha that Gd is slow to anger. I don't want to get into a debate about the validity of the biblical text and that point, but, all I can say is, there certainly seem to be cases where Gd was not so slow to anger. Maybe Gd is slow to anger most of the time, or maybe that's our ideal view of Gd. But if our reflection of Gd, being in Gd's image, reveals anything about Gd, it is that not even Gd can behave in a consistent manner all the time.
Now, it is good to be slow to anger - most of the time. It is best to not allow ourselves to get upset with every little thing, and lash out. Not everything in life is worth getting angry about. So, when we can, we, like Gd, strive to not get angry, to have high tolerance, to be patient and loving and kind and merciful.
There is a downside to not getting angry, or being slow to anger. Sometimes the anger builds up inside us, when it is better to let it out in little bits and piece, rather than to save it up until one explodes with fury and rage.
So we have an occasional snit fit. We all have them. Even Gd. How else could you explain what happened to Nadav and Avihu? Gd just had a snit fit. It happens. And we must make our apologies and go on afterwards.
But then there are those times when we are trying so hard to not get really angry. There are those situations when we know that it would be difficult to restrain ourselves for very long. And what is it best to do in those circumstances. Once again, Gd has role modeled for us. Knowing how Angry Gd was, Gd knew he could not trust the ability to maintain composure while being amongst the troublesome, stiff-necked Israelites. A golden calf, fer goodness sake! An idol! And Aaron helped fashion it. Gd must have been fit to be tied! And Gd knew it. Being a loving parent, Gd knew he must not allow Gd'self to be an abusive parent. And so Gd says that Gd cannot go in the midst of the people, for surely if Gd did, Gd would destroy them. (Ex. 33:5.)
Now that's anger management. Gd knew not to subject Gdself to a situation in which it was likely Gd would have a fit and do something mean in a fit of pique.
Well, that's one kind of anger management - yet another installment in Gd's little instruction book.
But there is another form of anger management - one that can come from outside us. Moshe was a practitioner of this form. Moshe knew there was a way to convince Gd that the anger could be controlled. If Gd could be reminded of just how much Gd loved these stiff-necked, arrogant people, then this love might defuse the anger and allow it to ebb away.
This is a different reading of the text of Ex. 33:15-16. I know that in previous years, I have offered other interpretations. Most notably, Moshe's clever trickery in getting Gd to accompany the people by playing to Gd's pride-how is it that we shall be known as Gd's special people if Gd does not go with us, in our midst? It's a clever ploy by Moshe-and it works!
But, as I have said, there is another reading. Moshe is not trying to persuade Gd with a little psychology. No, Moshe is trying to remind Gd of the special feelings that Gd has for these people. Moshe knows that, reminded of this, the warmth of love will flow thru Gd, and Gd's anger will subside, and Gd will be able once again to be among the people without fear of lashing out at them in anger.
Self Anger management by situation avoidance. Anger management with the assistance of someone else to guide our thoughts and feelings into a better, more loving place.
See, Borders and Amazon and Barnes and Noble and the rest can all go out and empty their self-help and pop-psychology bookshelves. They can replace all those books with just one. Our holy Torah. If you turn it and turn it again, it is all in there. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About....Well, Everything!!
Do a little Torah turning of your own this Shabbat.
© 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
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