Travel puts a lot of strain on a person, at least when it is done as a lifestyle choice and not simply for a vacation (although sometimes vacations, too, can stress you out!). Things are constantly going awry and a lot of the people and situations you encounter are just plain crazy.
I will be the first to admit that I have gotten angry while traveling. And don’t let Rabbi Ben fool you – I’ve seen him get angry, too. In fact, I’d wager a bet that if you spent enough time with any person on the planet eventually you would see them get angry about something. It would probably happen even faster if you made them travel through third-world countries.
As proof of my ability to win this bet, I present to you this week’s parsha. In it, we see the most modest and holy man to exist in Judaism, Moshe (Moses) himself get angry. We all know that Moshe is punished severely for hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Rashi teaches that Moshe did this because he got angry. He did initially speak to the rock, but it was the wrong rock. (There were a lot of rocks in those parts and he wasn’t quite sure which one G-d was referring to.) The Jewish people were irate and provoking him and Moshe simply did not have the patience to go from rock to rock, speaking to each of them. So Moshe got angry and hit the rock.
We learn in Judaism that there are four types of people when it comes to anger:
- Quick to anger, slow to calm down
- Quick to anger, quick to calm down
- Slow to anger, slow to calm down
- Slow to anger, quick to calm down
Notice that there is no option for “never getting angry.” This is because Hashem knows our weaknesses, knows it is impossible to never get angry, and therefore does not expect it of us. The worst kind of person is one who is quick to anger and slow to calm down. This person is always getting angry – and then they’ll bear a grudge! The best is the one who is slow to anger and quick to calm down. This is the person who appears to “never” get angry – and when they do, they forgive very quickly and are likely to be upset with themselves for getting angry in the first place. It is this latter type of person we strive to emulate. We should not set for ourselves the unattainable goal of “never” getting angry. Instead, we should acknowledge that if even Moshe could get angry, we will too, at some point.
The most important thing to remember about anger is that it is an emotion, not an action. We can’t always control the way we feel about something, our emotional response. Moshe wasn’t punished for feeling angry. What we can control is our reaction. How do we respond when we feel angry? Do we shout and scream? Throw things? Get violent? The most dangerous thing about anger is that it makes us irrational and we lose control of our actions. Moshe was punished because he got angry and struck the rock – his anger caused him to lose control of his actions and thus to disobey Hashem’s wishes. This is exactly what happens when we get angry – we then lose control and do things we shouldn’t do.
Even when life throws us a curveball, when we’re given wrong directions, when we’ve been scammed by a salesperson or our taxi driver drops us off in the wrong part of town, we have to maintain control of our actions. Even if we’re tired and hungry, our defenses down, we have to keep control of our actions. And this is where the ability to control our anger comes in: if we can control our anger, if we can anger slowly and overcome it quickly, there is less chance of us doing anything rash and counter to what we ought to be doing.
In the coming week, let us work on controlling our anger – and our actions.
Read more about Parshas Chukas: Learning a New Type of Logic