Thursday, March 22, 2012

Patience

My wife's grandfather, or "Grandpa" as we call him (may he live and be well!), loved to tell a particular story about one of the few trips that he took to Israel during his lifetime. As he tells it, arriving in Israel for a tour, he and his wife (Savta a"h) got settled on the tour bus, when the guide stood up in the front to address the American tourists for the first time.
"Over the course of our time together, we're going to learn a number of Hebrew words," he told them. "But the first word I'm going to teach you is also one of the most important ones. Sav-la-noot. Patience. Here in Israel, you need a lot of savlanut. If you've got that word, we'll have a great trip together."
Grandpa loved to tell that story because it articulated a core belief of his: Slow down. Stop being in such a rush. Patience. Things will come in their proper time.
If only things were that easy.
In recent years, we've become nothing if not more impatient. I want my dinner right now. I want my education instantly (a couple of online courses, a clep or two, and viola! A degree!). I recently heard a talk about internet habits which stated that we won't even wait two seconds for a slow-loading web page. (Actually, that is kind of annoying).  And yet, Grandpa's story still resonates. The things that we won't wait for aren't really worth very much.
How did that instant soup you had for lunch taste? How healthy was it?
How much did you learn and grow from that instant degree you "earned"?
We won't wait for websites to load because we don't really care about what's in them. After all, on average, we'll only spend somewhere between nine and twelve seconds scanning the page anyway. (If you've gotten this far reading this post, you're way beyond the average reader.)
Moreover, sometimes the things that we want the most demand patience. My mind often reflects on a short piece from the Gemara (Brachot 64a) that I recently learned that resonates strongly with me.
אמר ר' אבין הלוי כל הדוחק את השעה שעה דוחקתו וכל הנדחה מפני השעה שעה נדחת מפניו מדרבה ורב יוסף דרב יוסף סיני ורבה עוקר הרים אצטריכא להו שעתא שלחו להתם סיני ועוקר הרים איזה מהם קודם שלחו להו סיני קודם שהכל צריכין למרי חטיא אף על פי כן לא קבל עליו ר' יוסף דאמרי ליה כלדאי מלכת תרתין שנין מלך רבה עשרין ותרתין שנין מלך רב יוסף תרתין שנין ופלגא כל הנך שני דמלך רבה אפילו אומנא לביתיה לא קרא:  
Said Rav Avin the Levi: Anyone who forces the hour - the hour pushes him away. And one who is pushed away by the hour - the hour is pushed away from before him. [We derive this lesson] from Rabbah and Rav Yosef. For Rav Yosef was a Sinai (a man of broad knowledge) and Rabbah was an Uprooter of Mountains (a man of deep intellect). They were needed at a particular moment (to lead the Jewish community), and a message was sent to them [asking], 'Which takes precedence: A "Sinai" or an "Uprooter of Mountains"?' They answered, a Sinai (Rav Yosef) takes precedence, for all need the one who gathers the grain. Nonetheless, Rav Yosef refused to accept upon himself [the appointment], for the Caldeans had told him that he would only rule (lead) for two years (and then he would die). Rabbah ruled for twenty-two years, and afterwards (when Rabbah died), Rav Yosef ruled to two and a half years. And all the years that Rabbah ruled, [Rav Yosef] did not even need to call the doctor to his home.

Did Rav Yosef want to the be the leader of the Jewish community when the first asked him? I'm sure he did. But, for whatever reason, he recognized that the time just wasn't right. He'd rather live in health for twenty-two years first, and then take the job. (Actually, one wonder why he didn't refuse the job the second time around also.)
Ironically, the more we want something, and the more meaningful it is, the harder it is to be patient and wait for the right moment. And yet, according to the Gemara, the more we may press to bring the hour closer, the more we push that thing away.
What's the answer? That word that Gradpa learned on a tour bus so long ago: Sav-la-noot.