Friday, March 29, 2013

Anger and Its Consequences (Portion Shemini)

Anger takes a terrible toll on us.  While there are some situations in which it is appropriate to feel and express anger, far more often, rage creates a host of unwelcome consequences.  As my wife and mother-in-law note in their book on anger management, The Grump Meter: “Anger without alternatives, reasonable means of expression, and limits, causes monstrous problems.”

We see this in our Torah portion for this week, Shemini.  In an otherwise unremarkable passage, Moses rebukes Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar, who are the first kohanim (priests), for a perceived failure to follow the proper ritual:

Moses burned with anger toward Eleazar and Ithamar. . . and said, “Why did you not eat the purification offering in the sacred area. . . as I commanded?”

But Moses is wrong.  Eleazar and Ithamar are, at the time, grieving for their brothers, Nadav and Avihu, who have just died.  And so the Midrash teaches: “Look at what anger can do, even to a person as wise and pious as Moses.  When Moses became angry, his knowledge of the law left him, and he forgot that a priest in mourning was not permitted to eat of the sacrifice.”

To which another Moses—the medieval sage, Maimonides—adds: “Whoever angers—if he is a prophet, his wisdom will depart from him, and if he is a prophet, his prophetic spirit will depart from him.  People who have raging tempers—their lives are not lives.”

When we are angry, we do not think straight.  I suspect that all of us can recall times when our rage got the best of us.  Looking back on those occasions, we can see how ridiculously and foolishly we acted when we were gripped by anger.  To be in that state too often is to have no control over one’s life whatsoever.  Thus the Rambam’s teaching that the hothead’s life is not really a life at all.

In this season of Pesach, this time of liberation, may we pray and work for a release from the grip of anger.  May spring bring renewal, blessing, and peace.

For a link to more on the Grump Meter, see:

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