Yesterday, we noted the incident related in Parashat Shemini (10:16-20) where Moshe criticized the kohanim – Aharon and his two sons – for failing to eat the meat of a certain sacrifice, and burning it on the altar, instead. Aharon explained to Moshe the halakhic reasoning behind his decision, and Moshe conceded that Aharon was correct.
Rashi, commenting to Parashat Matot (31:21), includes this incident in his list of three occasions when Moshe was punished for becoming angry. Specifically, Rashi writes that in all three instances Moshe was punished by experiencing a mental lapse of sorts as a result of his anger. The other occasions noted by Rashi are Mei Meriva – when Moshe was angry at the people for complaining, and then mistakenly hit the rock instead of speaking to it – and after the battle against Midyan, when Moshe angrily berated the generals for their mistake and then forgot the laws relevant to the utensils taken from Midyan.
Upon considering these three incidents, we immediately recognize a clear distinction between the account here in Parashat Shemini and the other two. At Mei Meriva and after the war with Midyan, Moshe made a mistake after becoming angry. As Rashi writes, “Since Moshe came upon anger, he came upon a mistake.” This does not appear to be the case, however, in Parashat Shimini. Here, Moshe’s anger did not result in a mistake, but to the contrary, his mistake is what caused him to be angry. He overlooked the fact that Aharon and his sons were forbidden to partake of the sacrificial meat due to their state of bereavement, and so he angrily criticized them for what he perceived as their failure to comply with God’s instructions. This is very different from the other two situations, where Moshe was punished for his anger by making a mental mistake. Why, then, does Rashi group all three incidents together, as examples of how “since Moshe came upon anger, he came upon a mistake”?
Rav Yitzchak Pinchas Goldwasser, in his Mei Zahav (Parashat Matot), suggests (while acknowledging that this answer is given “be-dochak”) that Rashi refers here to the fact that Moshe’s anger prevented him from recognizing his mistake. True, it was his mistake that led to his anger; however, his anger, in turn, blinded him such that he did not realize that he, and not Aharon and his sons, had erred. And thus this incident, too, is an example of anger leading to a mistake – in the sense that it prevented Moshe from recognizing his mistake. It turns out, then, that Rashi in his comments points to two similar phenomena: mistakes made as a result of anger, and mistakes that lead to anger, which in turn prevents a person from recognizing and conceding his error.