In Parashat Eikev, Moshe recalls the sin of the golden calf, in response to which he shattered the stone tablets which bore God’s engraving of the commandments. In the aftermath of this incident, as Moshe tells, God instructed him to carve a new set of tablets, and then to construct a special ark where they would be contained.
The Midrash (Devarim Rabba, 3:13), commenting on this episode, cites the verse in Kohelet (7:9), “Al tevaheil be-ruchakha li-kh’os ki ka’as be-cheik kesilim yanuach” – “Do not be frantic with your spirit to anger, because anger rests in the bosom of fools.” Surprisingly, the Midrash interprets this verse as a reference to Moshe’s angry reaction to the golden calf, when he threw down the tablets and shattered them on the ground. The Midrash relates that God said to Moshe after this incident, “Moshe, you are venting your anger on the tablets of the covenant. Do you want Me to vent My anger? You will see that the world could not survive for even one moment!”
Whereas other sources in Chazal clearly approve of Moshe’s shattering the tablets in response to the golden calf, the Midrash here appears to take a different position, condemning Moshe’s reaction as an inappropriate expression of anger.
It is worth noting the verse Chazal chose for expressing Moshe’s mistake. Kohelet warns of “tevaheil be-ruchakha” – reacting “frantically” with anger. One of the common causes of anger is the emotion of “behala” – panic and anxiety. Often, upon observing a grave breach, we panic, assuming that the situation necessitates a drastic response. In our frantic quest for a sufficiently drastic response, we explode in anger. King Shelomo thus teaches that anger is reserved for “kesiliim” – “fools.” Intelligent people have the wisdom, patience and discipline to remain calm and collected while trying to think of an appropriate response to the wrong that has been committed. It is only the fool who despairs from finding an effective response and thus resorts to an impulsive fit of raw fury.
In instructing us how to properly respond to wrongdoing, the Midrash draws our attention to the example set by the Almighty Himself. He witnesses wrongdoing at all time, and yet He keeps the world running. If He would react frantically, with raw “emotion,” rather than carefully calculating to determine the most effective response, then “the world could not survive for even one moment.” The very fact that the world survives and continues to run at every moment in itself teaches us that we cannot react viscerally to every wrongful act that we witness or that is directed against us. Rather than act with “behala,” frantically, like “fools,” we need to try as much as possible to remain in control of our emotions and carefully and rationally determine the most appropriate response.