By Rabbi Adam Scheldt
“Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” This week I had the pleasure of examining this text (and the verses before and after it) with some of my colleagues from the Federation. It appears in the Torah portion for the week and you can find it in the Book of Numbers. The Israelite people are thirsty, and they cry out to Moses for help. Moses responds with anger. It is a passage that raises questions and has become a font (pun intended) of countless dvrei Torah throughout Jewish history.
Everyone who looks at this passage has something to say about it. They often find a way to justify the anger of Moses or use the text as an illustration of how not to lead. They cast blame for the anger in one direction or another. Regardless of how we opine upon Moses’ behavior, this episode in the Torah is the reason that he is not allowed into the Promised Land with everyone else as the greater exodus story draws to a close.
Admittedly, my general focus with any sacred text is one of personal growth and wisdom building. What is present for us in this narrative? And perhaps more interestingly, what part of ourselves is this narrative inviting us into? What new things can we learn about ourselves or life by reading this?
Whenever I picture this Torah portion, I envision it clearly. I see it in my mind to the point that I feel that uncomfortable hollow feeling one gets when you’re in a group and suddenly, someone has an angry outburst. I think back to a time when I was at a cocktail party at a friend’s home—maybe 15 or 20 people were there—and someone got angry with their spouse and began to shout and cause a scene. The room went silent. Everyone was beyond uncomfortable, and no one made eye contact with anyone. This is the kind of picture I get when I read Moses’ outburst. I picture the Israelites going quiet, no longer making eye contact, and everyone is deeply uncomfortably wishing they were literally anywhere else… like the Promised Land… but without Moses.
This year, however, my mind actually lingered on the idea of anger. Not necessarily Moses’ anger, but just the fact that there is so very much of it in our lives. The pandemic seems to have surfaced a good deal of anger and malcontent and so much of it comes spewing forth into our lives as we see outbursts on screen, in social media, while we are driving, or even just at a trip to run some errands. Even within myself, I have noticed that my own patience runs thinner than I would prefer with nearly everything. And this time around, I have felt called to really consider the idea of balance.
Regardless of the Torah’s narrative, anger is a basic emotion. We all feel it now and again. Its presence in our lives is a given, it is part of being human. But what do we do with our anger, and with equal importance, what do we do with other people’s anger? What is it like to be Moses? What is it like to be the Israelites? How do we process our own emotion as well as that of others? Especially in our post-pandemic world, how do we find balance?
In this moment (i.e. summer in Western New York), I head outside. Specifically, I head to my garden to process my own emotion. I dig, I plant, and I use my work in the garden to not just make my yard beautiful, but to also offer some beauty to my emotional landscape as well. Luckily for me, the result is often growth both for myself and for the garden. As for processing the emotions of others, I head to the Niagara Gorge. There is something about being surrounded by the beauty of nature while I am on the move and exerting myself that helps me let go of what burdens me and helps me clean the slate. In both cases, I combat anger with beauty.
But that’s the funny thing about emotion. If we were trying to find balance with color, we might add something dark to something light. If we were trying to find balance politically, we might add something liberal to something conservative. Our minds naturally might lead us to combine opposites in order to find equilibrium and balance. But such is not the case with our emotions. We are tricky creatures, and what works for me, may not work for you. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that you will need something different. So what is it?
Summers in Western New York offer us all SO many opportunities to explore, not just our little slice of the world, but also ourselves. Throughout all the wonderful festivals, garden walks (yes, I’m shamelessly plugging the garden tours that many of our community members are a part of), hikes, museum events, trips, and, and, and – we are offered ways to bring greater balance to our lives. We can find a myriad of ways to counteract the negativity that gets thrown our way (and even the negativity that we, ourselves, are throwing). And, we can do it all in some of the best summer weather the country has to offer.
In this wonderful summer season, may we each find the beauty to bring balance to our lives, and may we all look within to craft greater peace our lives (and even life in general)!
Rabbi Adam Scheldt is the Director of Spiritual Care at Hospice Buffalo.