June 21, 2024
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One of the most perplexing stories in the Torah is the story of Moshe hitting the rock. Shortly after Miriam’s death, Am Yisrael again complains over a lack of water. Hashem commands Moshe to gather the nation and speak to a rock to bring forth water. Moshe gathers the nation, admonishes them, and strikes the rock twice, after which water pours out. Immediately afterwards, God informs Moshe that, since he “did not believe in Me and sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel,” he will not lead the nation into Eretz Yisrael.

The meforshim struggle to understand the exact nature and severity of Moshe’s sin. While Moshe clearly disobeyed Hashem by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, why was this so problematic—to the extent that because of it, he could not lead Am Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael?

The Rambam, in Shemona Perakim, suggests a novel interpretation to this episode. He explains that Moshe’s hitting the rock was really a symptom of a greater transgression on Moshe’s part—his loss of temper and his movement to anger. Quoting the opening reprimand that Moshe delivers to the people before hitting the rock, “Listen here, you rebels,” the Rambam notes that Moshe failed to maintain the proper emotional equilibrium required of a Jewish leader as the ultimate role model for the people.

In addition, the Rambam posits, Moshe’s sin was exacerbated because Am Yisrael saw him as a representative of Hashem. They therefore interpreted Moshe’s anger as symbolic of God’s anger at them—which was incorrect, as Hashem doesn’t appear angered by their complaints in this case. By setting a bad personal example and by misrepresenting God’s feelings to the nation, Moshe caused the profanation of God’s name. He was therefore punished with not being able to lead the people into Eretz Yisrael.

Perhaps we can take the Rambam’s ideas one step further and explain other details of this story. Perhaps we can suggest that Moshe’s anger causes not only his verbal reaction to the nation, but also his hitting of the rock itself. One of the byproducts of anger is that one loses control of himself, resulting in unintended statements and actions. Due to his frustration, Moshe lost control of his actions, causing him to hit the rock instead of speaking to it as God had commanded.

Perhaps we can also suggest that God’s response to Moshe’s action was more a recognition of reality than a punishment. Once Moshe allowed his anger to overcome him in such a public fashion, God concluded that he was no longer fit to bring the nation into Eretz Yisrael. The leader who would bring the people into the land had to be able to contain his emotions, particularly in the public arena—and Moshe, at this point in his life, appeared unable to do so.

Dealing with our own anger as we raise our children can be particularly challenging. Parenthood grants us a certain level of authority—and when we feel our authority challenged or we feel disrespected, we are naturally moved to anger—reacting by yelling, or punishing our kids. We then justify these actions by rationalizing that it’s part of being mechanech our kids.

However, Rav Wolbe, in his sefer Zria U’binyan B’Chinuch, argues that this a classic example of where chinuch is used to cover up parents’ own deficiencies. In most cases, the true motivation behind this anger is the parents’ frustration, and their sense of being disrespected. Even worse, argues Rav Wolbe, in such situations we lose sight of the actual children in front of us—viewing them instead as the objects through which we can regain our own sense of pride and respect—by punishing them or lashing out at them. Actual chinuch of our kids is often the last thing on our minds.

To go a step further, anger towards our children can have unpredictable consequences. As we mentioned, when individuals are moved to anger they tend to lose control of themselves, and often say and do things they later regret. Particularly regarding our children, we must be extremely careful about the things we say or do to them, as we can never realize the long-term ramifications of our comments or actions.

Finally, when it comes to educating our kids about Judaism and mitzvot, we must be even more careful concerning our reactions. Just as Moshe represented Hashem to the nation, on some level, we represent God to our children. If we react in the religious arena with anger and irritation, they may mistakenly infer that Hashem is angry at them as well, which may cause a lasting impact on their own personal relationship with Hashem, or Judaism in general.

Of course, as the Rambam mentions, there are times when a display of anger is justified, or even warranted, for the sake of educating our kids. Even in those cases, however, we should only display the anger on the outside, for the sake of the child. Inside, however, we shouldn’t feel real anger towards the child—only love and compassion.

To be sure, controlling our anger, particularly in the realm of parenting, is extremely challenging. However, the first step towards improving our behavior in this area is to recognize the true source of our anger. Invariably, it is our own ego and personal pride. And while we may justify our actions in the name of chinuch, often our anger has the opposite effect, and hurts our ability to properly educate our kids.

Thousands of years ago, our greatest leader made the mistake of allowing his anger to get the better of him—causing God to decide that he was not the appropriate person to lead the nation into Eretz Yisrael. Many years later, we must be mindful of the hazards of anger and all that comes with it—particularly as we struggle to educate our kids in the most constructive way possible.

Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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