With the nation reeling from a plague that ravaged them due to Bilam and Balak’s scheme, Hashem orders an assault on the perpetrators, Moshe’s final act of leadership:

וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר נְקֹם נִקְמַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֵת הַמִּדְיָנִים אַחַר תֵּאָסֵף אֶל עַמֶּיךָ וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם לֵאמֹר הֵחָלְצוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם אֲנָשִׁים לַצָּבָא וְיִהְיוּ עַל מִדְיָן לָתֵת נִקְמַת ה’ בְּמִדְיָן – God spoke to Moshe saying, “Take revenge for the children of Israel against Midian; afterwards you will be gathered to your people (=die).” So Moshe spoke to the people, saying, “Equip yourselves for the army, that they can stand against Midian, and carry out the revenge of God in Midian.” (31:1-3)

Hashem told Moshe to avenge the fallen Jews against the Midian. But when Moshe gave the orders, he told them to carry God’s vengeance against Midian.

Why did he change the wording?

The Chanukas Hatorah explains that Moshe modified the instruction because if he were to tell them to avenge themselves, they would forgive their pride in an effort to keep Moshe alive. The spies had already erred in trying to second guess who ought to lead; there would be no mistake this time. Moshe purposely told them to carry out God’s vengeance; they couldn’t say no to that!

When the Jewish armies return from their attack on Midian, Moshe went out to check if his orders had been carried out:

וַיִּקְצֹף מֹשֶׁה עַל פְּקוּדֵי הֶחָיִל שָׂרֵי הָאֲלָפִים וְשָׂרֵי הַמֵּאוֹת הַבָּאִים מִצְּבָא הַמִּלְחָמָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם מֹשֶׁה הַחִיִּיתֶם כָּל נְקֵבָה – Moshe became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had returned from battle. Moshe said to them, “Did you allow all their women to live?!” (31:14, 15)

Moshe is the actor once the Torah states that וַיִּקְצֹף מֹשֶׁה. Why then, does the Torah reiterate that וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם מֹשֶׁה – that Moshe spoke?

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin explains that the Torah illustrates here that if angry, avoid speaking until the anger settles. The reiteration indicates that there was a pause between his anger and his speech. They were two very separate acts.

The Peleh Yoietz compares keeping quiet when angry to spraying water at the base of a fire. It extinguishes the source. R Elya Lopian would never punish a student at the time of an incident. The Alter of Kelm had an “angry suit” that he would change into each time he was angry, delaying reaction and allowing himself to calm down.

Controlling emotions are hard – but it is required. It is a life-long struggle, but we can never let up. Each breakthrough makes it easier next time around, not to mention the mountain of reward for managing to do it.

Actions must be thought through – not based on impulse.