What We Can Gain from Moshe’s Lost Opportunity?

Our Sages have written that anger is likened to idolatry. One with perfect faith in G-d’s kindness and His involvement in all events that occur would never lose one’s temper. The Maharal of Prague writes that, where there is complete faith, there is no anger for there is great joy (Y. Nachshoni, Studies in the Weekly Parashah, 1073).

In Parshas Chukas, a peculiar episode transpires in which Moshe and Aharon are told by G-d that they will never enter the land of Israel. The commentators have written many conflicting explanations on this subject as it is quite difficult to understand.

Previously Moshe was instructed to take his staff and speak to a certain rock before the entire congregation of Israel. This would lead to the rock to bring forth water miraculously for a people suffering from thirst. The Torah recounts that Moshe shouted at the complaining people, saying: “Listen, you rebels (Numbers 20:10)!” He then struck the rock and water gushed out of it much to the satisfaction of the Jewish people. However, shortly afterward G-d tells Moshe and his brother that they will not enter the land, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Children of Israel” (Numbers 20:12).

This passage raises a number of questions. What exactly happened here? Why were Moshe and Aharon punished so severely? What did they do wrong? Rashi, the famous Torah elucidator, explains that Moshe was punished for chastising the people by calling them insolent rebels and for striking the rock when he was only instructed to speak to it. Speaking to the rock would have been a greater miracle and would have led to a higher sanctification of G-d’s name. Rashi writes that had the people seen that even a rock, which can neither speak nor hear and has no need for sustenance, obeys G-d, they would have concluded that all the more so should they obey G-d.

Moshe’s main error was in losing his cool with the people. Obviously, a man of his spiritual stature is held up to a much higher standard than us ordinary folks. He was expected to have an absolutely perfect faith in G-d’s ability to work miracles. One who has total trust in G-d is filled with inner peace and contentment. Such a perfect faith would have made it impossible for him to lose his temper even slightly. His sin was not having total and complete trust that G-d would miraculously extract water from a rock in the desert. This led to him becoming angered when provoked by the people and then angrily striking the rock rather than speaking to it (Metsudah Chumash/Rashi IV, 266)

We all know that anger clouds our judgment. None of us are perfect, nor are we expected to reach the lofty level of Moshe. However, we can learn something from his mistake. The first step in dealing with anger is recognizing that it stems from our lack of sufficient faith or trust in G-d. If we are conscious of the fact that G-d is in control and everything that happens is for the best, we will be far less likely to lose our temper. Those who have reached a high level of trust in G-d are content and at peace. Even if they feel angry, they at least know that there is no logical reason to feel that way. From a practical standpoint, anger is a good thing to learn how to control because of the bad decision-making to which it leads. When we realize that everything is dependent upon G-d and not on ourselves or others, we will be able to reach a level of tranquility that will override anger. Yes, this takes much work and dedication, but G-d helps anyone who wishes to improve. May we all merit spiritual growth. Shabbat Shalom!