God's Anger, Our Anger

Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh
Associate Rabbi, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Recording Secretary of the Board of Rabbis

Parshat Ki Tisa: Exodus 30:11-34:35
Maftir Portion for Shabbat Parah:
Numbers 19:1-22

Haftarah for Shabbat Parah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

It seems that this week we can't run away from anger. We thought we released all of our anger on Purim. We thought we poured forth our venom toward Haman, blotted out his name, killed all of his sons in one breath. But here we are, days later, left with even more anger.

This week's portion we're left to grapple with God's anger. The Israelites saw that Moses was taking a long to come down from Mt Sinai, so with Aaron's help they made a Golden Calf. God becomes very angry and says to Moses "Let Me be, and let My anger blaze forth against (these stiff necked Israelite people) so I May destroy them and make of you Moses a great nation."

It's a pretty extreme reaction. Not another flood that would destroy the entire earth, but essentially God proposes to destroy the entire Jewish people. And yet, this isn't the first time God gets angry. After God meets Moses for the first time at the burning bush and asks Moses to lead people out of Egypt, God gets angry at Moses when Moses suggests God find someone else to take the job (Ex 4:14).

A second time God loses His cool is after God gives the ten commandments in parashat Mishpatim. God warns people that if we mistreat the widow and orphan, God's anger will pour forth (Ex 22:23).

Later in the book of Numbers God gets angry twice. First when the Israelites are wandering in the desert, they complain about not having meat. In reaction God shows God's anger by creating a fire that ravages the outskirts of the camp. (Num 11:1) Then later in Numbers, God gets angry when a Moabite king tries to hire Baalam to curse the Jews and also when Miriam and Aaron display their jealously at Moses' special relationship with God in Numbers 12.

Finally at the end of the Torah in Deuteronomy 31:17, God tells Moses that he will soon die, and warns Moses that once the Israelites enter the land of Israel they will eventually turn to idolatry and that God will "abandon the Israelites and hide God's glory from them" - certainly a sign of God's anger and disappointment.

Moses Maimonides, the 12th century sage, taught that the reason God is anthropomorphezed in the Torah is because the Torah speaks using human metaphors. Maimonides urges us not to take God's anthropomorphic character literally. I would go further to suggest that the images of God's anger in the Torah reflect our human anger.

Just as God gets angry with Moses when he doesn't want to accept the job as leader of the Jewish people, so too do we get angry with people we love when they don't perform up to the standards that we expect of them.

Just as God gets angry when his Israelites may be cursed by Balaam, so too do we get angry when those we love are mistreated.

Just as God gets angry when God is ignored by idol worshipping Israelites, so too do we become enraged when we are disregarded or unseen.

Perhaps God's anger is here to remind us that anger comes from a deep place of love. (Note: The opposite of anger is not love, but apathy.) That when someone is angry the question we need to ask ourselves is what they love and what they care about. Only then will we be able to peel away the anger and touch a deeper place of connection.