Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tisa
To dedicate this lesson

A Little Birdie Told Me


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Anger. It can be the most destructive of all emotions, causing untold damage to ourselves & to others. The Rabbis say that it causes a person – even Moshe Rabbeinu! - to lose not only his cool, but also his wisdom, & that true, abiding anger is tantamount to idolatry.

And yet, like all personality traits, it has a "flip side." The flip side of anger is what I would call "righteous indignation," the fury that arises inside us when we see injustice, cruelty or corruption, causing us to act in order to right the wrong. This is the "good" form of anger, the "healthy cholesterol" as opposed to the harmful cholesterol.

Moshe had both of these. When he saw the Egyptian beating the Jew, his righteous indignation kicked in, & he saved the Jew’s life. But when he hit the rock – twice - & called the nation "rebels" at M’riva, that was destructive anger that would cost Moshe dearly – his entrance to Eretz Yisrael.

In our Sedra, Moshe smashes the Luchot when he sees the people worshipping the Golden Calf, sending the first set of the 10 Commandments to smithereens. Which type of anger did this act represent?

Let me explain with an ancient legend about Shlomo, the only person in history whose wisdom approached that of Moshe (indeed, both of their names share the same 3 letters – Hey-Shin-Mem, or Hashem!).

Shlomo, like Adam, spoke all languages, even that of the animals. One day, a man asked Shlomo to teach him the language of the birds. Shlomo refused, saying it was not a good idea. But the man persisted until Shlomo gave in, reluctantly, & agreed to teach him.

Then one day, the man was at his home & he heard two birds, perched on his porch, saying: "This man’s field is on fire!" So he ran to the field & he put out the fire. He was extremely happy that he had convinced Shlomo to teach him bird-language.

Some weeks later, while the man was in the field, he heard a bird in the tree say, "This man’s house is on fire!" And he ran & quickly saved his house. He also sent a message to Shlomo, "See what a good thing it is that you taught me the language of the birds!"

But then one day, two birds were flying overhead and one chirped to the other, "You see that man? He is going to die today!"

Terrified, the man ran to Shlomo for help. "I warned you not to learn the language of the birds," said the wise king to the man. "You see, you deserved to be punished for your sins. G-d wanted to take your field as punishment, and then your house, but you foiled that. Now, there is no recourse but to take your life!"

When Moshe saw what the people had done, the sin they had committed, his first impulse was to save them. So he chose to break the most precious gift ever given to Man. It smashed, but we survived.

So when, G-d forbid, something unpleasant or unfortunate occurs in our lives, we would do well to remember the story of Shlomo and the language of the birds. Maybe, just maybe, rather than cursing, we should be counting our blessings.
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