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June 21, 2024

Turning Anger iInto Healing

Daniel Mutlu

Turning Anger Into Healing
Cantor Dan Mutlu

Growing up with two brothers and three sisters pretty much guaranteed that there was never a time when we siblings weren’t fighting. It really didn’t matter what the reason was; but most of the time it was over the silliest stuff. For instance, one April Fools’ Day, my brother thought it would be hilarious to put shampoo all over my huge-90s-style-clock-radio, so that when my alarm went off in the morning I would reach for the snooze button and my hand would be covered in a mysterious goo. The problem was, the shampoo broke the clock so that my alarm never went off. I was late for school that morning and my clock was ruined. Boy, was I mad. And even though I knew it was just a clock, I remember the feeling of anger sticking with me for quite some time–it was hard to let go of. Let’s just say I wasn’t in the mood for any more “clever” pranks.

Silly or serious, it’s all too easy to jump to anger when we feel wronged, especially with those closest to us, and we often let that feeling stick with us for way too long.

Well our torah this week gives us a great example of how to handle anger in our personal relationships. As the children of Israel are making their way through the desert toward the Promised Land, Miriam and Aaron make a huge mistake by speaking out against their brother, Moses. They become increasingly jealous of Moses’ special relationship with God and wonder why he gets all the Divine attention. And so, they say, “Has God spoken only to Moses? Hasn’t God also spoken to us?”

God hears this and, not too pleased, immediately afflicts Miriam with tzara’at, the dreaded skin disease of the day. Now, if we were in Moses’ shoes, we might have been tempted to say, “serves you right for questioning my authority.” After all, it was God who punished her. But Moses, being the humble and wise leader he is, instead prays for his sister’s healing. In what is the shortest biblical prayer in the Torah, he calls out these 5 words:

[Ab Drone] El na, r’fa na lah, Please God, please heal her.

Moses’ prayer is a powerful lesson for us all. Not only does his prayer seek to heal Miriam from her illness, an illness which was the direct result of her badmouthing him, it also has the power to heal Moses from any bitterness and resentment he might feel toward her.

If we could do what Moses did, how much lighter, more positive and holy would our lives be? If instead of mulling over and over what someone did to us we chose to pray for them instead, how much could we heal our relationships with one another?

When we feel wronged our knee-jerk reaction is to feed our anger and to act on it. But In Pirkei Avot we read, “Who is Strong? One who controls their impulses.” Though our impulse is toward anger, God shows us that prayer is the only way to bridge the gap between us. Plus, it’s a lot harder to stay mad at someone when you’re busy praying for them.

Now, It might be surprising to learn that this simple and beautiful prayer from the Torah never became part of the traditional healing prayers. After all, many biblical verses did become centerpieces of our liturgy: The Shema, Mi Chamocha, V’shamru. But not this one. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because the rabbis of old wanted to avoid highlighting Miriam and Aaron’s jealousy of Moses. Or maybe it was because Moses’ prayer was only directed at one person, and not the community? Either way, this prayer did eventually make its way into Jewish life and worship, because the lesson in the Torah is so important and powerful.

We’ll share tonight a new setting of this text by Israeli composer, Yair Levi. His version adds three simple words in Hebrew: Az nitchazeik v’nitrapei. So will we be strengthened and healed. By praying for others who have wronged us our Torah teaches that our anger can be turned to compassion and healing for all of us.

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or read the transcript above.