Reputation Is Everything

We can all heed Moses' reminder to God, to live up to God's reputation of being slow to anger.

Commentary on Parashat Sh'lach, Numbers 13:1 - 15:41

Parashat Sh’lach describes how 12 spies scout the Land of Israel. When they return, only Caleb and Joshua bring back positive reports. The rest of the spies frighten the people with terrifying accounts of the powerful people who live in the land. Hearing their reports, God threatens to abandon this people for their disloyalty. But Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people not to destroy them, saying that God’s reputation is at stake. In his plea, Moses repeats God’s own words, when God earlier said (Exodus 34:6):

Numbers 14:18-19

“‘The Lord! Slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression; yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt.”

Your Numbers Navigator

1. The words “slow to anger” are interesting. How do they differ from “be calm” or “hide your anger?” Why is “slow to anger” a better description of how to deal with anger?

2. Moses calls God “slow to anger,” and yet God has just threatened to destroy the entire people of Israel. Why would Moses say that God is slow to anger?

3. This verse, the listing of God’s attributes, is recited before taking the Torah from the Ark on the High Holy Days and festivals. Why do you think this verse was chosen?

4. Moses infers that God’s reputation is at stake. Why would having a good reputation matter to God?

5. If we are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and God is slow to anger, what can this verse teach us about handling our emotions?

The rabbis took a close look at human nature, stating many times in different ways what makes up a person’s character. Here is one example:

Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 65b

“A person’s nature can be recognized through three things: his cup, his purse, and his anger.” In Hebrew, the language is alliterative: The Hebrew words are koso (cup), kiso (purse), and ka’aso (anger).

Your Talmud Navigator

1. Why would the rabbis choose these three criteria — one’s cup, purse, and anger — as the most important traits? Do you agree?

A Word

Jewish tradition teaches that we are often judged by others based on how we act when we drink liquor, how much tzedakah (charity) we give, and how well we control ourselves when we are provoked. And, just like God, our reputation depends on it. The Talmud also adds a fourth criterion to the other three, saying that our nature is recognized “by what we do for pleasure.”

Like God, we have guidelines. And like God, we often need to be reminded that being slow to anger is better than acting immediately and brashly. We need not hide our emotions, but merely pause a moment before we do something that might destroy our reputation. May we each remember to be like God slow to anger, abounding in kindness…

Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

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