What Can Anger Elohim Most
Is there a sin that can anger Elohim most? The Infinite One is infinite in grace and compassion; He is slow to anger and of great mercy, ready to pardon. But what about His patience? Is His patience still infinite as He is? We will explain the reason for this question in due course.
A good departing point to explore the matter would be “In the beginning”.
Was Elohim angry when the first man and woman broke the commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? He gave them one commandment to keep and seven years later they broke it already. Was He angry with them? The Torah says nothing of the sort. YHVH Elohim just called unto Adam and asked him, “Where are you?”
Even when Elohim decreed the curses upon the mankind and the deceiver, no note of anger was recorded. Instead, He made coasts of skin for the man and his wife and dressed them. Then He said, ” the man has become like one apart from us, to know good and evil “, and He sent him out of the garden of Eden.
Perhaps, Elohim became angry when one human being murdered another. With seemingly calm tone YHVH said to Kayin, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s bloods cries out to Me from the ground.” Here the Sages explain that Kayin shed not only the blood of his brother, but all of his descendants. Surely, Elohim must have been angry with such a mass murder, the first one in human history. Nay, He was not angry. Instead, He set up a sign for Kayin, lest anyone kill him and sent him out of His presence.
One may say that Elohim was angry when His sons corrupted the mankind in aspect of the term “corruption”, even genetically for they cohabited with the women and Nephilim were born to them (half human half angelic beings). That was evil in the eyes of YHVH, and He mourned over the destruction of His handiwork. When He decreed that mankind and beasts whom He created would be wipe off from the face of the earth, no anger is recorded either. Instead, YHVH said, “I am sorry that I have made them”.
After the universal flood, men multiplied, and all the earth had one language and one speech. They settled in the land of Shinar and built for themselves a city. They all were in one accord to build a tower whose top was to reach the heavens and make a name for themselves.
They were not fools to believe that they could actually reach the heavens. Neither were they afraid that another flood would wipe them off for they knew that Elohim had sworn to their father Noach (who was still alive) never to bring another flood.
Although this tower is best known as “the Tower of Bavel”, its demolition is not mentioned in the Torah. Perhaps their intention was not to rebel against Elohim but to ensure their fame and glory through the tower that would serve as a sign for the future generations that their names after them would continue.
Was YHVH angry with that generation? What evil had they done? They were united in brotherhood in one language and speech. They wanted to live in their own world order.
The Creator however wanted the people to populate the world and evolve in nations with diverse cultures and languages, not to live in one world.
He took counsel with His tribunal in heaven and said, “Let us go there and confuse their language, so that they do not understand one another’s speech. And so it came to be. The creation and great dispersion of the nations meant that the people should no longer all live in one nation governed by one world order.
The Sages ask the question: “Now which sins were worse, those of the Generation of the Flood or those of the Generation of the Dispersion? The former did not stretch forth their hands against God, whereas the latter did. Nevertheless, the former were drowned, while the latter did not perish from the world. That is because the Generation of the Flood were robbers and there was strife between them, and therefore they were destroyed. But these behaved with love and friendship among themselves, as it is said (verse 1): “one language and uniform words.” Thus you learn that discord is hateful, and that peace is great.” This we learn from Gen. Rabbah 38:6.
Yet, there was no anger when YHVH rained sulphur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah for the vice and depravity of its inhabitants. Flavius Josephus wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 11:1.
About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God, insomuch that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices. God was therefore much displeased at them, and determined to punish them for their pride, and to overthrow their city, and to lay waste their country, until there should neither plant nor fruit grow out of it.
What did YHVH do? He said,
Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very heavy, I am going down now to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me, and if not, I know. (Gen 18:20-21)
Yet, despite their depravity, YHVH was even willing to negotiate their destruction if ten righteous people would be found in them. Nay, there were not even ten.
A great leader is chosen, not elected
While it would have been understandable to find YHVH Elohim angry in all these instances, the surprise comes from where it is least expected. The first time we learn that YHVH Elohim became angry was in His first meeting with His chosen one; He was angry at Mosheh. From now on we will encounter the anger of YHVH.
At Mount Horev, the Messenger of YHVH appeared to Mosheh in a flame of fire out of the midst of the thorn-bush. This encounter changed Mosheh’s life, when YHVH made Himself known to Mosheh as the Elohim of his fathers, Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov, reminding him that the promise made to his father Ya’akov to take his children them out of Egypt and bring them back to the Land was about to be fulfilled through Mosheh himself.
To this heavenly assignment Mosheh started making his arguments: from “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” to “I am not a man of words”.
The people who became the worthy are the ones who denied they were worthy at all. Yeshayahu (Isaiah), when charged with his mission, said, “I am a man of unclean lips”. Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) said, “I cannot speak, for I am a child”. David too said the words, “Who am I?”.
The Sages teach that natural leader is the one who says, “Who am I?” Yet, the anger of YHVH burned against Mosheh.
And the anger of Yehovah was kindled against Mosheh, and He said: ‘Is there not Aharon your brother the Levite? (Exo 4:14)
Why? Because Mosheh’s arguments were groundless? All Mosheh said was true: he was no one in Israel; he was rejected by his own, and the Israelites would not believe him and would seek confirmation of his appointment as a leader of Israel. All these arguments in opposition to YHVH were legitimate concerns and later on they would happened to be true; Mosheh was indeed rejected despite the signs he did before the people.
So, why then was YHVH angry at Mosheh? Because Mosheh said, “Yehovah, please send by the hand of him whom You would send” (Exo 4:13). In other words, Mosheh said, “Send someone else to take the Israelites out of Egypt”.
The second time we see the anger of YHVH is in quite different circumstances.
The cost of inadvertent sin
YHVH appeared to Israel in His grandeur on Mount Sinai. He made a covenant with His people and asked Mosheh to come up to take the tablets of the Covenant written with the finger of YHVH.
Forty days later, the people broke the Covenant already by making an image of the invisible YHVH. And He said to Mosheh,
And now, let Me alone, that My wrath might burn against them and I consume them and I make of you a great nation. (Exo 32:10)
YHVH was really angry. Here the greatest statesman stepped in and pleaded with YHVH his Elohim,
Yehovah, why does Your wrath burn against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand? (Exo 32:11)
Then Mosheh continued,
Why should the Egyptians speak and say, “For evil He brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from the heat of Your wrath and be comforted from this evil to Your people. (Exo 32:12)
That was the reason not to destroy Israel? Because of what the Egyptians would say? Does it indeed matter what the nations say against Israel? This begs for explanation. And the explanation can be found in this subtle argument.
And YHVH was comforted by what Mosheh said (Exo 32:14). Now, the Hebrew word translated here as “repented” or “relented” does not necessarily imply turning around or changing one’s mind. Rather, when Mosheh reminded YHVH to remember the forefathers and the love He had for them, His heart was comforted, His anger was mitigated, and the nation was spared.
Mosheh would use the same argument in Num 14:13-16 after the sin of the ten spies, but he would add a subtle and at the same time a very important argument.
YHVH’s anger was mitigated, but not Mosheh’s. When he came down from the mountain, he was really angry at the people, so angry that he threw the tablets of the Covenant written by YHVH Himself on the ground and broke them.
After YHVH comforted Himself, He said to Mosheh,
Come, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Avraham, to Yitschak, and to Ya’akov, saying, “To your seed I give it”. (Exo 33:1)
YHVH renewed His Covenant with Israel, and after the Tabernacle was built and everything in it was made, the nation headed for the Land.
Lust for the fish or for Egypt?
After a three days’ journey, the Israelites arrived at a camp, where they began to complain; and that was evil in the ears of YHVH.
And Yehovah heard it, and His anger burned. And the fire of Yehovah burned among them and consumed those in the outskirts of the camp. (Num 11:1)
They wept as if some misfortune had happened to them, all because they did not have meat to eat?
Who is giving us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic, but now our soul is dried up. There is nothing to look at but this manna! (Num 11:4-6)
While the commentators have interpreted these verses to mean that YHVH was angry with the people because they were discontent with the manna and wanted meat to eat, this is not how we interpret the situation.
The people were indeed longing for the varieties of foods they had enjoyed in Egypt, and which were absent in the desert and cried out for meat.
And Mosheh heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the door of his tent. And the anger of Yehovah burned exceedingly. And in the eyes of Mosheh, it was evil, (Num 11:10)
Meat was given as the people longed for but it was not given freely.
Now, some may argue why the lust for meat constituted sin that deserved anger. Were the sins of the ancient not greater than the lust for meat, yet YHVH was not angry at them but at Israel. What evil is this to long for meat? Indeed, the people had manna to eat that satisfied all their nutritional needs; perfect food of a sort. The lust for some extra food seems capricious and ungrateful.
If that was what the people murmured against, it could have been given without consuming fire coming from heaven. Had they asked Mosheh for meat, cucumbers, and garlic, it could have been given to them in addition to the manna. But a little more variety of food was not what the people wanted. They craved for the food of Egypt, not just for any food.
And that was what YHVH held against the people, saying,
You are going to eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a month of days, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes an abomination to you, because you have rejected Yehovah who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we come up out of Egypt?” (Num 11:20)
Rejecting the Land
The children of Israel came at the threshold of the Land promised to their father ready to take it. But were they?
Mosheh sent twelve men to explore the Land, which YHVH had given them. In forty days, they returned with a mixed report: the Land promised to patriarch was indeed good, but there were giants there who would not give it without fight.
And all the children of Israel grumbled against Mosheh and said to him,
If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! And why is Yehovah bringing us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become a prey? Would it not be better for us to turn back to Egypt? And they said to each other, “Let us appoint a leader, and let us turn back to Egypt. (Num 14:2-4)
Only two of the twelve gave a positive report that the Land could be conquered because YHVH said so. But that was not good enough for YHVH.
How long shall I be scorned by these people? And how long shall I not be trusted by them, with all the signs which I have done in their midst? Let Me strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them and make of you a nation greater and mightier than they. (Num 14:11-12)
YHVH resented the conduct of the people as utter mistrust of Him, despite all the signs which He had done in the midst of the nation. He made the same threat that He had done before, when the rebellion took place at Sinai. He declared that He would smite the rebellious people with pestilence, and destroy them, and make of Mosheh a greater and mightier nation.
Mosheh made the same argument to defend the people this time adding something new. Or, was it indeed new? He said to YHVH,
Now if You shall kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your report shall speak, saying, “Because Yehovah was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He slew them in the wilderness”. (Num 14:13-16)
And having said, Mosheh reminded YHVH that He was slow to anger and prayed for forgiveness, as He had forgiven His people “from Egypt even until now” (Num 14:17-19).
This time YHVH did not forgive. By no means He would leave unpunished the crookedness of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation (Num 14:18). The third and fourth generation was the generation of the Exodus that was walking in the steps of their fathers who whore after the idols of Egypt.
They were sent in the Arabian exile for thirty-eight years until they all would die in the wilderness.
We will now return to complete what we commenced to explain. Do we see a common element in the rebellions of Israel in the wilderness?
The anger of YHVH was kindled against Mosheh (Exo 4:14), because he rejected the heavenly commission to bring the people to the Land.
The wrath of YHVH burned against the people to consume them (Exo 32:10), because they broke the Covenant that would have brought them into the Land.
The anger of YHVH burned exceedingly, because the people wanted to return back to Egypt, and thus they rejected YHVH and His Land (Num 11:20).
The anger of YHVH again burned against the people, because He was not trusted by them (Num 14:11-12), despite the fact that He brought them to the threshold of the Land, which He was about to give them.
If that explanation is accepted, then what is the common element in those sins? The Land the people rejected.
To say, “Why did we come up out of Egypt?” is to have rejected YHVH. One who rejects the free gift, rejects the one who has made the provision.
The sin of the golden calf for creating an image of Elohim was forgiven, but the sin of rejecting the Promised Land was not. Why? Is idolatry a worse sin than the rejection of the Land?
Indeed, it is. There is nothing that can anger Elohim more than the whining: “Why did we come up out of Egypt?” But would we have been any better in the wilderness?
Although the question “What can anger Elohim most” refers to the sin of Israel in the wilderness, it seems as relevant today as ever. Because is there anything worse today than the rejection of the Land by the Diaspora. Now as then the Israelites say, “Why should we come up out of the exile where we have fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic?” That is why they are still in exile, because they have rejected the Land, and they have rejected YHVH.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!