Anger: the middah of a burning, and what we can learn from forests
(ג) וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֔ם זֶ֚ה הָֽאִשֶּׁ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּקְרִ֖יבוּ לַיהֹוָ֑ה כְּבָשִׂ֨ים בְּנֵֽי־שָׁנָ֧ה תְמִימִ֛ם שְׁנַ֥יִם לַיּ֖וֹם עֹלָ֥ה תָמִֽיד׃
(3) Say to them: These are the offerings by fire that you are to present to יהוה: As a regular burnt offering every day, two yearling lambs without blemish.

Fire Offerings

Fire has long been a metaphor for anger. Considering the prevalence of the theme in this prevalence of the theme in this parashah, how could we not take a hard look at these offerings and consider what they might teach us here? I suggest the the "offerings by fire that you are to present to the Eternal as a regular burnt offering " (Numbers 28:3) in the sacrificial section of the Torah portion can be read midarshicly as guidance to a spiritual practice. We should not dismiss our own anger, a.k.a. fire, but rather practice it regularly, just as we would practice the middah of patience or the middah of gerenorsity. Maimonides speaks about the need, at times, to practice the extreme of a middah in order to find the proper place of moderation and balance on the spectrum. Rather than squelching your anger, feel it, dissect it, and let it teach you to channel it for holy purposes.

(From: Rabbi Pamela Wax, Kaas - An Anger Banquet, in The Mussar Torah Commentary: A spiritual path to living a meaningful and ethical life. Ed. Rabbi B. H. Block. CCAR Press, New York, 2020/5780. pp. 253-259)

Here's the section in Rambam that rabbi Wax was referencing:

(ב) וְכֵיצַד הִיא רְפוּאָתָם. מִי שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל חֵמָה אוֹמְרִים לוֹ לְהַנְהִיג עַצְמוֹ שֶׁאִם הֻכָּה וְקֻלַּל לֹא יַרְגִּישׁ כְּלָל. וְיֵלֵךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ זוֹ זְמַן מְרֻבֶּה עַד שֶׁיִּתְעַקֵּר הַחֵמָה מִלִּבּוֹ. וְאִם הָיָה גְּבַהּ לֵב יַנְהִיג עַצְמוֹ בְּבִזָּיוֹן הַרְבֵּה וְיֵשֵׁב לְמַטָּה מִן הַכּל וְיִלְבַּשׁ בְּלוֹיֵי סְחָבוֹת הַמְבַזּוֹת אֶת לוֹבְשֵׁיהֶם וְכַיּוֹצֵא בִּדְבָרִים אֵלּוּ עַד שֶׁיַּעֲקֹר גֹּבַהּ הַלֵּב מִמֶּנּוּ וְיַחֲזֹר לַדֶּרֶךְ הָאֶמְצָעִית שֶׁהוּא דֶּרֶךְ הַטּוֹבָה. וְלִכְשֶׁיַּחֲזֹר לַדֶּרֶךְ הָאֶמְצָעִית יֵלֵךְ בָּהּ כָּל יָמָיו. וְעַל קַו זֶה יַעֲשֶׂה בִּשְׁאָר כָּל הַדֵּעוֹת אִם הָיָה רָחוֹק לַקָּצֶה הָאֶחָד יַרְחִיק עַצְמוֹ לַקָּצֶה הַשֵּׁנִי וְיִנְהֹג בּוֹ זְמַן רַב עַד שֶׁיַּחֲזֹר בּוֹ לַדֶּרֶךְ הַטּוֹבָה וְהִיא מִדָּה בֵּינוֹנִית שֶׁבְּכָל דֵּעָה וְדֵעָה:

(2) And how may their cure be? He who is of a hot temperment should be taught to demean himself this wise: If he be smitten and cursed, he must not feel the insult at all. and follow this way a long time until anger will be completely rooted out from his heart. And he who was arrogant should accustom himself to a life of extreme self-abasement by occupying the lowermost seat of everybody, and dress in such rags which shame those that wear them, and do such in like matters until the haughtiness of his heart will be rooted out of him, when he will return to the middle-way, which is the good way. But when he will return to the middle-way he should follow it throughout his lifetime. And this line he should follow in all the rest of his tendencies; if he had distanced himself to the extreme point of one he should remove himself to the extreme end of the other and follow it up a long time until he may return to the good way, which is the middle-standard in each and every tendency.

Where do we turn to in order to learn our middot?

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אִילְמָלֵא לֹא נִיתְּנָה תּוֹרָה, הָיִינוּ לְמֵידִין צְנִיעוּת מֵחָתוּל, וְגָזֵל מִנְּמָלָה, וַעֲרָיוֹת מִיּוֹנָה. דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ מִתַּרְנְגוֹל — שֶׁמְּפַיֵּיס וְאַחַר כָּךְ בּוֹעֵל.
Similarly, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Even if the Torah had not been given, we would nonetheless have learned modesty from the cat, which covers its excrement, and that stealing is objectionable from the ant, which does not take grain from another ant, and forbidden relations from the dove, which is faithful to its partner, and proper relations from the rooster, which first appeases the hen and then mates with it.

To expand the Rabbinic suggestion of learning from the animal kingdom, we can look out of our homes and practice learning middot from the Earth around us. For instance, devastating, out - of - control fires, are the "outside" image of our inner raging anger:

We are made in the image of our home Earth, and can learn so much about our inner-selves by observing the land around us and the way in which it behaves.

"Many trees in North America are adapted to natural cycles of ground fires. Ponderosa pines and giant redwoods have evolved thick bark to protect their sensitive cambium. Jack-pines have cones that pop open in heat so that their seeds fall onto forest floor cleared of vegetation, landing on a soft bed of ash that is a perfect place for life to start anew. However, the character of forest fires in North America has been changed by naturally increasing drought conditions and the human practice of fire suppression, and forests that would once have survived, or even thrived, in the face of fire are now threatened by its destructive force." (From: P. Wholleben, The Hidden Life of Trees, Greystone Books, Vancouver/Berkley, 2015 [2016], pp. 208-209)

This is information about N. American trees, go and research trees in your own area - how do they react to and with fire?

"...And if a fire - dependent forest goes too long without burning,

that raises the risk of a catastrophic blaze which could destroy a forest completely"

(from the video below)


What practice would you develop in your own life, to control your Fire-Anger? How would you make sure not to squash your inner fire? How do you maintain small, cleansing fires in your life?