Just Breathe - How To Respond to Anger and Frustration

Just Breathe - A Response to Anger and Frustration© 

Rabbi David Baum

Parashat Hukkat, June 28, 2014, Rosh Hodesh Tammuz 5774

Chapter 20
1 The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.
2 The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people quarreled with Moses, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? 5 Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”
6 Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces. The Presence of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.”
9 Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He had commanded him. 10 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?” 11 And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” 13 Those are the Waters of Meribah—meaning that the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord—through which He affirmed His sanctity.

Why do you think Moses hit the rock?
I’ll give you my reason, but first, let me share some words brought to you by PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service). 
One can learn a lot from watching Sesame Street, and I don’t mean just kids, but their parents who watch with them!
Today, I want to share a lesson I learned from Elmo – it’s called belly breathing.
There is a song on Sesame Street that teaches our children what to do when they get angry. 
“Sometimes the monster that’s inside you
Is a monster that is mad
It’s a monster who is angry
It’s a monster who feels bad.
When your monster wants to throw things
And your monster wants to shout
There’s a way to calm your monster and chill your inner monster out.”
Your mad monster may appear at any time and any place
And that mad monster will make you make a mad monster face.
He makes you want to push he makes you want to shove
There’s a way to calm that monster bring out the monster love!”
Belly breathe gonna breathe right through it
Belly breathe this is how you do it.
Put your hands on your tummy now you’re ready to begin
Put your hands on your belly and you slowly breathe in.
Feel your belly go out and in and in and out
And you start to calm down without a doubt
Feel your belly go in and out and out and in
Now Elmo feels like himself again.”
These lessons aren’t just for nursery school – but for everyone, and I only wish there was Sesame Street ‘in the wilderness’ for Moses to watch.
My answer is quite simple, Moses lost his temper.  He became angry. 
God says: “You and your brother Aaron---take the rod and assemble the community, and, before their eyes, speak to the rock and order it to give forth water. This is how you shall provide water from the rock for the people and for their flocks.”
Moses does as he is told. He gathers the people, and he takes up the rod. And then, suddenly, with no warning, Moses goes ballistic, exploding with anger.  He takes the staff and he hits the rock twice with all his might—instead of speaking to it, as he was supposed to do. And as he does, he lashes out at the people, screaming:  “Listen here, you rebels, shall we bring you water from this rock?”
This is not the same Moses who kept his cool in front of Pharaoh.  This is not the same Moses who led the people for 40 years, with calmness, patience, and deliberation.  Sure, Moses had his moments of anger, but often times, it was Moses calming God down! 
This is not my idea alone, in fact, we learn it from another Moses – Maimonides. 
Maimonides states that Moshe Rabenu’s sin was letting his anger come forth when he called the people rebels.  This is why God punished him.  He writes, “This behavior in such a man constituted a Hillul Hashem, a profanation of God’s name, since he was the model of good conduct for all the people.”
But why did he become so angry?  This wasn’t the first time that the people complained – he’s danced this dance before. 
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik tells us to look at verse 1:
“The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.”
The story begins by saying that Miriam died, and she was buried, and then it says that the people ran out of water.
And then they came to Moses.
Right after his sister dies, he is thrust right back to work – no shiva. 
We live in an interesting society.  We value those who work hard, and if you take a break, than you aren’t a hard worker.  How does one get ahead?  Sacrifice everything, especially your time.
But Judaism teaches us differently.  Judaism teaches us that we need breaks, so much so that God forces us to rest one day out of the week, whether we like to or not. 
When we lose someone, especially someone as close as a sibling, we are supposed to take a time out and mourn.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that what happened to Moses happens to all of us. Bereavement leaves us vulnerable. In the midst of our loss we are unable to control our emotions. We make mistakes. We act rashly. We suffer from poor judgment. That is why the first thing we tell our friends when they are in grief is not to make decisions too quickly.
We tell them: wait a little bit until you make financial decisions, don’t sell the house, don’t decide which child you are going to live with, don’t decide what to do with the business, don’t make any major decisions until you have recovered from this blow, and until you have had to time to think.
And, most importantly, don’t go right back to work without mourning. 
Unfortunately, I have seen many cases where people feel they need to get back to work.  They tell me, ‘this is how I cope with loss, by being busy.’  And almost always, they end up regretting their decision not to take a break, not to take a big belly breath.  It hurts them, and it also hurts others. 
So if Moshe Rabbenu needed time to grieve, to rest, to take a belly breath, then how much more do each one of us need to do the same?
Taking a breather might seem like such an easy thing to do, and a ridiculous thing to write a sermon about, and yet, we see what damage can ensue when we don’t take those important belly breathes.
Shiva and mourning is also a time of taking a break from the normal patterns of your life.  Shiva and mourning eases one back into the world after their world is irreparably shaken by their loss. 
Shabbat is all about taking in that breathe, breathing in that extra soul that we receive on Shabbat.  When we hear a great musical piece we realize that the pauses are just as important as the music that’s being played.  When we remove the pauses, the symphony becomes less rich. 
We need to pause more, we need to mourn when we are supposed to mourn, and we need to let ourselves rest when we need to rest.

We need to breathe more, not just alone, but together. 


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