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by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Elazar the Kohen (priest) said to the men of the armies. . ." (Numbers 31:21).



"Elazar the Kohen (priest) said to the men of the armies. . ." (Numbers 31:21).

Wait a second there is something different here. Elazar is the one speaking to those returning from battle, teaching them about the laws of koshering utensils. Elazar is certainly up to the task, but we have come to expect Moses in this role, instructing the Jewish people in Hashem’s commandments. What happened to Moses?

As usual, Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, points the way, explaining that Moses forgot these laws, making it necessary for Elazar to teach them in his stead. Forgot these laws? How is that possible? Moses, the man who spent forty days and forty nights studying with Hashem on Mt. Sinai, forgot a law? Indeed, Rashi continues, Moses forgot the laws as a result of allowing himself to become angry at the soldiers upon their return from their battle with Midian. Although he had good reason to be upset, Moses’ anger caused him to overlook these laws, making it necessary for Elazar to transmit them in his place.

Of course, we all knew that anger is something to be avoided if at all possible, but that this vice is so severe that it could cause even the greatest prophet who ever lived to stumble is astonishing. But that’s not all. Rashi further points out that anger was also the culprit in another unfortunate chapter in Moses’ life. As described two weeks ago in Parshat Chukat, Moses is instructed to speak to a rock so that it may bring forth water for the Jewish people to drink. Moses, however, angry at the Jewish people for having complained to Hashem, falters and hits the rock instead. For this act, Hashem prevents Moses from entering the land of Israel and he must die only miles from its border. This is the incredibly destructive power of anger.

All this certainly makes us stand up and take notice. Yet even more shocking is the warning from the rabbis of the Talmud: "One who allows himself to become angry, it is as if he committed idolatry." Wow! Quite an astounding statement, but it offers us a powerful insight into the unique nature of anger. All other emotions are not mutually exclusive; one may experience two distinct feelings simultaneously. A person may be happy about a raise he just received at work, while at the same time quite unhappy about a death in the family; it is no contradiction. At times, even the same event can spawn two disparate emotions. Anger is the exception. Anger is such a powerful emotion that it totally consumes a person, becoming his entire focus. He ceases to think rationally and his mind and body become numb to any other sensation. The object of his anger becomes the center of his universe while everything else ceases to exist. A person who is angry is indeed worshipping idols, as his anger causes him to forget about everything else even Hashem. So great is the power of anger that it creates a self-contained reality where nothing else can coexist. A frightening thought if it can wreak so much havoc on Moses, imagine what it can do to us!


Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

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