This week’s Torah Portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35) introduces an interesting question about anger, and about sin. Is anger always bad? Is it wrong and unhelpful or is it good when properly directed?
Firstly, here is part of the Chabad’s ‘Torah Portion in a Nutshell’ summary:
“When Moses does not return when expected from Mount Sinai, the people make a golden calf and worship it. G‑d proposes to destroy the errant nation, but Moses intercedes on their behalf. Moses descends from the mountain carrying the tablets of testimony engraved with the Ten Commandments; seeing the people dancing about their idol, he breaks the tablets, destroys the golden calf, and has the primary culprits put to death. He then returns to G‑d to say: “If You do not forgive them, blot me out from the book that You have written.” G‑d forgives, but says that the effect of their sin will be felt for many generations. At first G‑d proposes to send His angel along with them, but Moses insists that G‑d Himself accompany His people to the promised land. Moses prepares a new set of tablets and once more ascends the mountain, where G‑d reinscribes the covenant on these second tablets …” – from https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/2833/jewish/Ki-Tisa-in-a-Nutshell.htm
As in every Portion, there is so much great insight and wisdom that can be drawn from these narratives. I would argue that the most significant event here is the giving (twice) of the Ten Commandments (the Ten Words). I have already addressed this a little in an earlier blog post, so for now I wish to consider Moshe’s anger.
If you read Exodus Chapter 32 from the start you will note that God informed Moses that the people had made a golden calf. So Moses descends the mountain already knowing this and yet when he sees it with his own eyes he gets angry and throws down and smashes the Ten Commandments, the Instructions of God!
The most important instructions ever given to mankind are destroyed!!
But Moses already knew about the sin of the golden calf, so why did he bring the Tablets down the mountain at all, and why did he still lose it and smash them in anger?
Well notice that the verse states: “It happened as he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dances, and Moses became angry, he threw the tablets down from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain” (Ex 32:19).
The new information here is that the people were dancing. Not only had they sinned in creating this idol to worship, but they were so lost in their sin that they were celebrating it, dancing around it and fully embracing it, perhaps to the point of not even noticing Moses. So perhaps his anger and smashing of the very words of Yehovah was needed to open their eyes; for them to see him; to hear him and to have any chance of recognizing and repenting of their error.
Moses anger was righteous anger, and his anger and corresponding actions (read on with horror) would have clearly stopped many in their tracks and lead them to recognize the gravity of their actions. So we read: “The next day Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go up to Yehovahi ; maybe I will be able to atone for your sin. …” – Exodus 32:30
If many or most of the people had not recognized and repented of their sins, then it is most unlikely that Moses would have make this statement of intent and shared some hope that Yehovah might accept their repentance and have their sin atoned. (It seems that this concept is not well understood – please see my blog post on what atonement really means – https://globaltruthinternational.com/2020/06/20/atonement-covering-our-sins-from-ourselves/).
So on reflection we should see that Moshe’s anger and consequent actions ultimately lead to a positive outcome. His righteous anger has a positive effect. It did not mitigate the sin of the people nor in any way reduce the reality of their sin, but it does appear to have lead to much repentance from the children of Israel, and a consequent return to fellowship with Yehovah.
Now consider as well the anger of Yeshua:
13 “It was almost time for the festival of Pesach in Judah, so Yeshua went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the Temple grounds he found those who were selling cattle, sheep and pigeons, and others who were sitting at tables exchanging money.
15 He made a whip from cords and drove them all out of the Temple grounds, the sheep and cattle as well. He knocked over the money-changers’ tables, scattering their coins;
16 and to the pigeon-sellers he said, “Get these things out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market?”
17 His disciples later recalled that the Tanakh says, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”
– John 2:13-17
Yeshua also displayed righteous anger here. It was not a total spur of the moment thing either. He saw a serious lack of respect for the Temple and went and made a whip from three or more chords before using it to angrily usher these sacrilegious business people out of the Temple of Yehovah.
Did Yeshua’s anger bring a positive benefit (apart from its immediate, though probably very temporary, restoration of the sacred and holy)?
Yes, because it helped confirm to his disciples that they could trust in the Tanakh and in the words of Yeshua as well:
22 “Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they trusted in the Tanakh and in what Yeshua had said.” – John 2:22
These are just two examples of righteous anger. Mussar (a form of Jewish ethics which has now been around for 600+ years), argues that all attributes of our characters and personality can be used for good if controlled and directly in the correct and godly way.
Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice.
I discuss this important Mussar approach in my article ‘You Shall Be Holy’: https://globaltruthinternational.com/2015/03/21/you-shall-be-holy-introduction/
May you seek to see injustice in the world that also drives you to righteous anger and further helps motivate you to do ‘tikkun haolam’. It is a sin not to serve – we all have talents; we are all are called to use those talents to help repair or better the world. – https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/12/21/the-rarity-of-repentance/