There is a flash of anger that runs through Israel’s priestly class. It begins with Jacob’s children and courses through the tribe of Levi.
this week’s portion, Jacob gathers his children and grandchildren to
his deathbed to offer final blessings. “Simeon and Levi are a pair;
Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my person be included
in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For
when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen. (Genesis
Such are the words Jacob offers to his sons Simeon and Levi. And it
is the descendants of Levi who become the Levites and the priestly
custodians of the ritual cult. Weeks ago we read of Simeon and Levi’s
rage when they killed Shechem and his followers. (Genesis 34) The
brothers were enraged that Shechem had raped their sister Dinah. Jacob
however continues to worry that their anger will prove to be their
undoing and unravel his legacy.
In fact anger can be our undoing.
Even Moses stands guilty
of this sin. Because of his anger he dies with his dreams partly
unfulfilled. He is not allowed to venture into the Promised Land
because he lashed out at the people he leads. When the Israelites
clamored for water he strikes a rock and screams at them. (Numbers 20)
Moses is as well from the tribe of Levi. Is anger his family’s destiny?
also read of Phinehas who is so angered by his countrymen that when
they begin to follow the practices of the Midianites by offering their
sacrifices and “whoring after the Midianite women” that he, like his
predecessors before him, kills an Israelite man and a Midianitie woman
while they are lying in bed. (Numbers 25) Is anger and impassioned
vengeance the tribe of Levi’s M.O? Israel’s priestly class appears
framed by anger.
Then again perhaps these stories are meant as warnings. Perhaps the
Torah connects these episodes by a family lineage so as to fulfill the
warnings of Jacob. The Torah is a balm against the destiny of anger.
Examine its conclusion. Its greatest hero dies at the edge of his
dream, on the steppes of Mount Nebo, on the boundaries of the land of
Israel. He does not touch his life long quest because of anger. Check
your anger if you want to fulfill your dreams, the Torah suggests.
Still I wonder how much of our destinies are shaped by our parents,
grandparents and great-grandparents? How much of Moses and Phinehas
are shaped by Simeon and Levi? Is anger a matter of genetics? Can we
overcome our destiny? There are times when each of us sees our parents
and grandparents in our own actions. I recognize my father’s rage in my
own. I see my grandfather in my angered silence.
Is our destiny written by our parents and grandparents? Do Simeon
and Levi forever shape their family’s destiny? Do Jacob’s words seal
the future of Israel’s priestly class? The great Israeli author, A.B.
Yehoshua suggests in his novel, Mr. Mani, that we cannot escape
what is written for us. Our lives are a struggle against what is
already codified by our ancestors. We try in vain to wrest new paths
against our destinies.
I however continue to believe otherwise. I see the Torah’s
conclusion and Jacob’s words as a warning against the dangers of anger.
It can be our undoing. The priestly class can become unraveled. A
flash of anger can destroy dreams. Even when anger is justified, it
never serves the future. “Cursed be their anger so fierce, And their
wrath so relentless. I will divide them in Jacob, Scatter them in
Israel.” (Genesis 49:7)