In Perkei Avot, the tractate of the Mishnah that teaches us a great deal about ethics, it is taught:
There are four types of temperaments:
Easy to anger and easy to appease- the loss is canceled by the reward.
Hard to anger and hard to appease- the reward is canceled by the loss.
Easy to anger and hard to appease- a wicked person.
Hard to anger and easy to appease- a saint (Hasid).
Take a moment and think about each of these temperaments. How would you categorize yourself? Your partner? Your child?
It could be argued that throughout life, each of us takes on all four of these temperaments depending on the situation, our investment in the cause, and maybe even our level of exhaustion. Our parshah this week, parshat Ki Tissa, deals in great length with anger management problems. The parshah finds the Israelites on their journey through the desert, and after they take the ½shekel census, the people wait for Moses to come down from the mountain. Up until this point in the narrative, we have seen the Israelite people as quick to complain and easily appeased by miracles. We have seen Moses occasionally get frustrated with them and coddle them along this journey.
The narrative throughout the Torah has also guided us through the reactions of God to the people. When Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden and eat from the Tree of Knowledge, God does not lash out with violence or destruction; rather, God gives them a fitting punishment. During the period of Noah, God is outraged at the corrupt behavior of the people and sends the flood that wipes out all of creation other than Noah. But almost as quickly as the flood waters rush through, God sends a rainbow and makes a promise not to do this again. With Abraham and the cities ofSdom and G’morah, God is again upset by the citizens’ behavior, and instead of destroying an entire world, only destroys those cities.
In this week’s parshah, we are introduced to a different kind of anger from God. Moses does not come down from the mountain right away, and the people lose faith quickly. They instruct Aaron to build them a calf, a physical object to worship. Meanwhile, Moses is unaware of their actions, and when God shares with Moses what the people have done, it is with vengeance and anger. In chapter 32, verse 7 God begins to react, telling Moses to go down to “your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt…” Immediately God has turned away from the people and placed ownership on Moses. God continues in verse 9, “I see that this is a stiff-necked people. Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.” Moses responds in verse 11 by imploring God to calm down: “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand. Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth.’”
God is red with rage, taken over with anger, and this anger is so strong it is nearly uncontrollable. Moses recognizes this as his moment to take control. The Talmud in tractate Brachot perek 5retells this story as Moses grabbing God by the nape of the neck and basically saying, “God, this is so like you, you always do this, you get so angry and react so quickly. God, you’re quick to anger, think about how people will view you.” Moses asks God to stop, to take a moment and think about the consequences, the bigger picture, the grand scheme of things.
In a way, God, like each of us, has varied temperaments and reactions with anger. What Moses teaches God is the need to take a step back, take a deep breath and pause. Think about what would happen if each one of us, instead of screaming, going on a rampage or shutting down was able to stop, think and then react. Moses did this for God, and whether we’re quick to anger and easy to appease or hard to anger and hard to appease, sometimes we all need that reminder to take a step back, stop and think.
Family Discussion Questions:
1. Our ‘ethical covenant’ teaches us about erech apayim, being slow to anger. This can be difficult at times. How can you work together as a family to control our reactions?
2. How do you calm down most easily? Who can help you?