When Moses came down the mountain and shattered the tablets on the golden calf, the Torah says vahiychar af, Moses was angry. However, Rabbi Joseph Herz makes a distinction between anger and indignation. The Rabbis teach that one who breaks anything in anger is like an idolater. Anger is selfish and an emotional reaction. Herz further explains that indignation is a moral response that we feel when we see a great wrong committed. This is what Moses felt when he witnessed the golden calf; the event did not hurt him personally but rather erased the Divine presence from the people Israel.
This week, I attended a seminar on democracy and media led by the great broadcaster Bob Costas. In his keynote speech, Costas shared how today’s viewers receive an endorphin rush from anger. The panel of journalists emphasized that people rather watch disagreements than agreements. Costas came to the conclusion over his award-winning career that he would rather call people in and call people up than call people out in anger.
That is what we must learn from Moses. What seemed like a bout of anger was in fact his frustration of the people, recognizing that their action would have repercussions for the generations to come.
For when we replace anger with indignation, we replace emotion with morality. Eventually, we are led to a place of goodness, kindness, and love.