Understandably jet-lagged upon my return from Israel, Iplaced my wedding band and watch on a credenza in the front of my house that was reachable for Benny. The next morning I woke up to put on both, 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 for not remembering where he had put it, since he admitted to playing with it.
The more I looked (Benny feigned looking, too), the angrier I became. After a few minutes, I started thinking about my Shabbat message, and alas, 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 wanted 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 of loss to Moses’ behavior. His beloved sister Miriam has just died. Moses’ grief causes him to be short on the patience that he normally displayed.
Punishment is swift (and harsh), as Moses is told by God that for losing his anger he is not allowed to enter into 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 I spoke about on Rosh Hashanah two years ago, 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 or destructively. We may even scream at a child. I know I am certainly guilty of not being perfect and of losing my temper, especially when my children do something exasperating. Sometimes, darkness lurks behind our behavior, and suddenly, when we least expect it, it erupts into unwanted, regrettable behavior.
It is important not to lose control, especially with our children. We don’t want to explode at them 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 issue is, it is better to address the deeper issue than for us to lose control. After not stressing for a few days and taking Benny for a ride on his bike, the ring turned up. In the end, cooler heads prevailed, just the way it should always be.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham