Exhausted upon my return last week after flight cancellations and an unexpected night in Atlanta, I placed my wedding band and watch on a credenza in the front of my house. The next morning I woke up, and to my complete dismay my watch had been moved and my ring was missing. I was, in a simple word, mad-at myself for leaving it out and at Benny and Henry for not remembering where they had put it while playing with it.
The more I looked (Benny frantically feigned looking, too), the angrier I became. After a few minutes, I started thinking about my Shabbatmessage and realized that the Torah told me how to handle this (minor) vicissitude of life. I went to the office, and even though I had the essence of the answer firmly in my mind, I needed to "inhale" it one more time.
In this week's Torah portion, Hukkat, we see Moses losing control. Moses' chevra (community) is complaining yet again, this time for lack of water in the desert. God tells Moses specifically to "speak" to a rock in order to draw water from it. Instead, Moses "hits" the rock in anger. But there is a backdrop to Moses' behavior. His beloved sister, Miriam, has just died. Moses' grief causes him to be short on patience.
Punishment is swift (and harsh), as Moses is told by God that for losing his anger he will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. I actually believe that it was God's scheme to not allow Moses into the land so that his grave would not become a shrine; either way, the Torah teaches us a valuable lesson. As the old adage goes, if you add one letter onto the word "anger," we create "danger" in our lives.
People lose control. We may get excessively angry or behave impulsively. We may even scream at a child. I know I am certainly guilty when my children do something exasperating. Darkness lurks behind our behavior, and suddenly, when we least expect it, we can erupt into regrettable behavior.
It is important not to lose control, especially with our children or other friends and family. We don't want to explode for minor infractions. We also don't want to set up models of destructive behavior. We deal with a myriad of issues in our lives that can be a source of our frustrations. The lesson to learn from Moses is to take that extra deep breath and try to overcome our negative emotions. Whatever the subject, it is better to address the deeper issues than for us to lose control. After not stressing and getting ready to take the boys swimming, the ring turned up. In the end, cooler heads prevailed, just the way it should always be.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham