Torah and anger are mutually exclusive.

After returning victorious from their war against Midian with spoils of pots and pans, B’nei Yisrael were educated in the laws of toveling and kashering utensils. Interestingly, these procedures were not taught by Moshe Rabbeinu – the instructor of the rest of the mitzvos – but by his nephew, Elazar HaKohen. Rashi (BaMidbar 31:21) comments that a substitute teacher was needed because Moshe could not articulate these halachos in the aftermath of his recent, heated discussion with the nation.

The previous verses describe Moshe’s displeasure with the Jewish soldiers for their failure to eradicate the immorality of the Midianites. Given that this battle was waged to avenge the destruction wrought by the women of Midian, it was an egregious error for the commanders to spare the lives of these perpetrators. Rashi explains: Because Moshe had gotten angry and chastised the people, he was subsequently unable to remember the laws of purifying utensils, and so Elazar needed to step in to teach them. To support this understanding, Rashi lists several other instances where Moshe’s anger resulted in costly mistakes.

This explanation of Rashi is typically understood to highlight the Divine punishment for anger. Every time he lost his temper, Moshe was penalized in one way or another. Here, he screamed at the army, and therefore, lost the ability to teach the nation the next set of halachos.

The problem with this understanding, however, is that it is difficult to see what Moshe did wrong. In each circumstance, his frustration with the people was entirely justified. In our parshah, for example, the troops had missed the whole point of the war, and it was Moshe’s job to set them straight! Why was he punished for his righteousness?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l (Sichos Musar, 5733 [87]) clarified that Rashi is not describing a punitive process. Losing the ability to teach Torah is not a punishment for getting angry; it is a natural consequence. Connecting with Hashem and His laws requires a calm and settled mind. One who becomes aggravated – even when completely justified – will simply be incapable of the mental and emotional clarity necessary for a Torah lifestyle.

This is not only true of full-blown rage. Feelings of indignation often lead to a fixation on one’s own sense of fairness, making it impossible to consider another perspective. We have all likely witnessed the irrationality of outrage, and how someone in the throes of a fit appears beyond all reason. In such a state, a person cannot tolerate the perspective of another – be it a human being, or even G-d Himself. Perhaps this is why Chazal compared lashing out in anger to nothing less than idolatry (Shabbos 105b) – to highlight how antithetical this midah is to a life of mitzvah observance. Conversely, one who immerses in Torah study is less likely to experience bouts of anger (Rashi, Avos 6:2), as commitment and submission to r’tzon Hashem are protective factors against egotism and exasperation. In this sense, Torah and anger are mutually exclusive.

Even – perhaps, especially – when the feelings are valid, we need to recognize the dangers of anger, and the ways it prevents us from learning and following the Torah. If it could happen to Moshe Rabbeinu, then the rest of us are certainly susceptible, as well. With proper introspection and self-awareness, we can maintain our mitzvah adherence by keeping our cool.

Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and presides over its Young Marrieds Minyan, while also pursuing a PsyD in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..