Patience... savlanut… tolerance…
I decided to write about patience this week because I’ve noticed that as the pandemic goes on, I, as well as others, seem to have less of it. I decided to research patience through our Jewish texts and was surprised to find that the first teaching in Pirkei Avot is “to be patient in judgement” meaning to weigh things and not make hasty decisions. According to the sages (Akeidas Yitzchok 27:13) this is the most important personal trait to be pursued.
Patience is also discussed in Alan Morinis’ book, Everyday Holiness. In the Mussar teachings, Dr. Morinis likens the onset of impatience to that of the match and the fuse where “the first glowing embers ignite into flames even before we’ve become aware that they have started up.” What is meant here is that it is better to catch our impatience as it arises and nip it in the bud. He goes on to share that his teacher, Rabbi Perr, calls this awareness “opening the space between the match and the fuse.”
Hillel was famous for his patience. Remember the story of the non-Jew who first came to Shammai and said to him “I want you to convert me to Judaism, but only if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot?” Shammai in his impatience sent him away, but when the man went to Hillel with the same request, Hillel told him, “What is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary – now go and learn it!” I think this is a perfect example of patience. Instead of reacting, Hillel found a way to connect without judgement. He was tolerant.
Patience is not easy work. It takes a lot of self-restraint to not react, but to do this we need to further develop our self-awareness. The pandemic and everything else going on in the world is stressful and it is easy to be reactive towards others. The technical difficulties with Zoom, the lack of face-to-face interactions, and the ongoing requests for support from so many nonprofit organizations can be overwhelming. However, we need to slow down and catch ourselves before we get frustrated and impatient. We need to assume everyone is doing the best they can to negotiate these uncharted waters.
Step back and breathe before you respond or decide something is negative because it is not to your liking. “It’s amazing how far your patience or impatience can go to change a moment, a life, lives or even history” writes Rabbi Pinchas Winston. Given the gravity of this statement, it only reinforces the importance of this middah.
Dr. Morinis discusses the root of impatience being the erroneous belief that we are the masters of our fates. Put in this context, it made me realize I am part of a much bigger picture. As my mom use to say, “Man plans, G_d laughs.” This doesn’t take away our responsibility to exercise restraint, but rather puts things in perspective. There is an order to our world and we are players in this play we call life. We are part of a grand scheme. However, each day we have the opportunity to do better, listen more, and be more patient.
I found in my research that the Hebrew root for patience is also the same root for the words “suffer” and “burdens." This was very telling to me as it connotes that patience is difficult and not always a pleasant experience. It is hard and challenging to be patient and especially so when there is so much pressure and anxiety in our lives. But I know we can do better. I can do better.
Think about how you can be more patient with yourself and others during this time. Catch yourself before the ‘match ignites the flame.' Contemplate your actions as your reactivity only adds an extra burden to an already challenging feeling. The feelings are real, but the action or reaction associated with them is in your control.
I wish you a peaceful and relaxing Shabbat filled with meaning and gratitude.