Rebel Yell: Hukkat 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What causes you to lose your temper? Do you have to be in a particular vulnerable mood for your temper to let loose, or does it not matter? How do you manage the ways you express your temper, if at all?

Moses is sentenced to death in this week’s portion for hitting a rock to produce water, but we see indications of his anger beforehand:

The Pitch: “Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?’” – Numbers 20:10

Swing #1: “According to Moses Maimonides, the main sin of Moses and Aaron was in the language with which they spoke to Israel: ‘Listen, you rebels.’ To be sure, many of the prophets of Israel spoke with sharpness in similar language. But here it was inappropriate since the children of Israel sought water, incontestably an urgent matter of life and death for a person. There was no reason to speak to them harshly.” – Yad Yosef

Swing #2: “That is why Aaron is implicated by [his staff’s] misuse even though Aaron does not say or do anything at the rock. It is his staff, with his name on it, to be kept in a holy place and used in specific circumstances. As we have seen in Leviticus, intent is not the issue in the realm of ritual. Rather, actions relating to sacred objects and boundaries bring necessary consequences of themselves. Whether or not Aaron has thought or done anything improper, he is tied to what has happened.” – Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Swing #3: “Just as this staff produced almonds as a reminder of the last rebellious generation, are we to produce water from you from this rock?” – Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators say about how to take ownership for losing our tempers? How can we manage to react properly when we are justified in our rage? In our highly volatile political climate, how can we best manage our anger to create needed change?

In that spirit, there is a great deal of anger over the “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. It is a horrible situation, and we stand firmly with the statement co-signed by many Jewish organizations, including the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (read it here). We also endorse the message sent by the Charleston Jewish Federation (read it here) encouraging us to take action. When our anger is justified, let us channel it for good.

Summer Training: An observation on my health initiative … before this week, I never realized how much drinking lots of water filled me up, which has a direct impact on how much I eat. But I seem to rely on water enhancers (flavoring additives) to tempt me to drink enough. It’s not ideal, but it’s a start.

The Big Inning at the End: On a lighter note … speaking of anger, I have to admit that I enjoyed when a manager arguing with an umpire would start kicking dirt. Obviously I discourage any violence against umpires or anyone else in the game, but a managerial temper tantrum, while admittedly immature, is always high comedy. Maybe I’m a bit old-school …

Shabbat Shalom!