This week's learning and practice is dedicated by Rabbi Brett Isserow to his wonderful Beth El Hebrew congregation, in Alexandria, Virginia. May we all merit to have such as fine community leader as Rabbi Brett.
How do I write a piece on patience (savlanut) when I have three young children all calling out for one thing or another – this one needs a drink, this one needs a story, this one just wants to whine for no apparent reason. It is these real-life events that really force me to dig deep for this week’s middah teaching.
Reb Shlomo Wolbe defines patience as holding your own suffering.
That means that there are times in our day when things don’t go the way we want them to. That lack of control of process or outcome in our own life results in a feeling of suffering of sorts. Savlanut is about recognizing when that suffering emerges and holding it with love and compassion and firmness so that we don’t tip the scales towards frustration or anger.
I would like to present two stories of patience to show that wherever we are in our life we all need to “weigh our actions all the time and strive for balance” (Rambam, Shemoneh Perakim, Ch. 4).
Our first story is with Moses, the leader of the Israelites, who, along with Aharon his brother, assembles all the people at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh. Moses calls out “Listen now, you rebels!” and then hits the rock twice to draw out water for the people to drink (Numbers/Bamidbar 20:10). The Rambam notes that G-d objects to the fact that a man like Moses would express anger toward the congregation of Israel when it is improper for him to do so. He should hold his own suffering and not direct that energy outwardly in the form of anger.
Our second story is about a Bukharan baker in Jerusalem (On Bus Drivers, Dreidels and Orange Juice, Feldheim). A woman arrives at her local pita shop and takes her place in line behind an old, Bukharan woman, bent with age, wearing a floral-patterned babushka. The old woman seems very dissatisfied with the pita-bread that the Syrian baker is offering her.
"No, this one is burnt," she says, handing it back to the baker. "It's not good. I want a different one." So the man gives her a different one. After carefully examining it, the woman returns this one, too, commenting, "This one doesn't look well-done enough. Give me another..."
The second woman in line marvels at the patience of this simple baker. For it seems that each time the man hands the old woman a perfectly good, fresh, warm pita-bread, the old woman carefully examines it and hands it back with some complaint.
The baker finally says a bit firmly, and perhaps with a trace of frustration "It's okay, ma'am. This one is good. It's a very good one. They're all fine."
Convinced, and wrapping her six large pita-breads in a small blanket to keep them warm, the little old lady finally walks away. Turning to the second woman in line, the baker apologizes for the delay, and explains, "I feel bad that I got agitated with her. You see, she never pays for her bread."
These two stories offer an interesting contrast. In the first, it may be easy for us to look to Moses and expect more from him because he was the leader of the Jewish people. Perhaps the stakes were high, but he was the leader after all and therefore held to a higher standard. With the baker, he was faced with a demanding customer who never paid for her bread. Surely his irritation at this charity case is understandable and just human nature.
In Genesis/Bereshit (49:15), we see Jacob’s blessing to Issachar. Jacob says “he rests between the boundaries,” and yet he “bent his shoulder to bear (savlanut).” Rashi suggests that the boundaries are day and night and that the shoulder to bear is learning and living Torah. Is we apply this teaching to our discussion of patience, then likewise, the blessing that we all should have is that we recognize our own boundaries and how we need to travel the middle path to maintain our balance and hold our own suffering.
Regardless of the situation, whether we are in a Moses or a shopkeeper position, we have to rise to the challenge of feeling our own irritation and holding that feeling dearly in a way that it doesn't adversely affect another person.
As the Rambam says we are all obligated to “weigh our actions all the time” and strive for balance.
Practice: Each day there are likely several times when the situation is not in your control. Identify to yourself when one of those times arises and at that moment say out loud “there is a chance that I will have to hold my own suffering.” Then watch the events unfold.
Question: Rabbi Preida (Talmud - Eruvin 54b) taught a lesson 400 times in one day to a student who was slow to learn. In repetition after repetition, to ensure that his student would learn the lesson, Rabbi Preida would hold any irritation or frustration he might have and not express that externally. Can you see in your own life a time where this level of patience would have benefit to those around you and also to you?