And Elazar the priest saidthis is the law of the Torah which the Lord commanded Moshe (31:21). The Torah then describes the laws of kasheri g our utensils, laws that were pertinent in light of the spoils which the Israelites captured in their war with Midian. Our Sages, quoted by Rashi, were perplexed as to why Elazar and not Moshe gave this series of laws to the Jewish people, especially as the Torah tells us it was Moshe whom G-d had commanded regarding these laws. Noting that when the soldiers came back from their war with the Midianites Moshe was angry (31:14) they answered that since Moshe came to anger, he came to making mistakes and thus forgot the law. Rashi cites two additional examples where Moshe's anger led to mistakes; after the death of Nadav and Avihu when he was angry at the two surviving brothers Elazar (the same Elazar of our parsha) and Itamar for not continuing on with the sacrificial order, his anger blinding him to the fact that in the face of death we are distant from G-d and thus no sacrifices may be brought (Vayikra 10:15-20). The second case Rashi quotes is the incident of the mei-merivah where Moshe's anger led him to strike the rock depriving him of his opportunity to lead the people into Israel . While the incidents of the sacrifices and utensils led to mistakes in the area of Jewish law the anger displayed by striking the rock was one of leadership and one in which Moshe missed an opportunity for sanctifying the name of G-d; hence the severe consequences.
Moshe by nature was short tempered and while his anger served him well in breaking the tablets and in defending the Jew being attacked in Egypt , ultimately it cost him dearly. What is most fascinating is that immediately after Elazar gives the law regarding utensils Moshe is faced with a situation that we would have expected would kindle his anger; the challenge of the tribes of Reuven and Gad who wished to stay behind as their brothers crossed the Jordan . Yet despite the fact that it was the rejection of the land that caused the 40 years of wandering in the desert something that Moshe did point out in reprimanding them Moshe calmly responds to this potentially dangerous situation: and he said (to them) a phrase our Sages say indicates love. Why, with the people on the verge of entering the land, did Moshe not vent wrath on these people who (would) dishearten the children of Israel from going over into the land (32:7).
While one could possibly suggest that Moshe had learned that anger rarely if ever works, it appears to me that there is an additional element in this case. It would not be, and is not, easy to conquer and settle the land of Israel . With few natural resources and enemies all around why not stay on the other side of the Jordan where economic success and peace and quiet reign. Israel is where the Divine presence dwells, where spirituality is in the air and holiness is in the land. But not all are desirous of such intangible goals and instead focus on the difficulties of living in Israel . Moshe while extremely disappointed with such a request understood this.
The Talmud ( Brachot 5a) tells us that the land of Israel can only be acquired through yisurin - pain and suffering. Those who merit to live there are assured of their place in the world to come; the world of truth, peace and tranquility (see Ketubot 110 b-111a ).
Sefer Bamidbar is the book of our relationship to the land of Israel . It begins with the census and setting up the camp as we prepared to journey from Sinai to Israel . Parshat Maasei details the stops along the way, the mitzvah to settle the land, the borders of our land and special cities of the Levi'im and the cities of refuge for those in need of protection. (Apparently while we often feel Israel is unsafe, when Jews have to flee it is the land of Israel that offers refuge.) Bamidbar ends with a repeat of the story of the daughter of Zelafchad as if to remind us to emulate their desire for a portion in the land. In between these two, the Torah details why the generation that left Egypt did not merit to enter the land. Even the name Bamidbar serves to contrast the desert to the land flowing with milk and honey, the only land in which the Torah can be fully implemented. As we are witness to the yisurin that the Jews in Israel are enduring to acquire (maintain) the land let us pray that thy enemies be scattered and let those who hate You flee before You (Bamidbar 10:34). Shabbat Shalom!