Patience While Suffering

Mar 30th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays
“Patience, how it mitigates physical pain, makes it easier, more bearable, even lighter. It’s a question of non-resistance, mental resignation, a certain quieting of mind while suffering. You can sneer at this virtue or call it cowardice if you like; When resistance ceases, troubles and suffering become easier, lighter. (Giacomo Leopardi, December 30, 1826)

I remember the first time that I was able to stay awake until the end of the Seder. If I recall correctly, I managed to stay awake all Shavuot night before managing to stay awake until the end of the Seder. Perhaps it was all the grape juice that made me fall asleep. I clearly remember experiencing my eyes becoming heavy and falling asleep as suffering.

My father zt”l somehow caught the look on my face, my suffering, and said, “Let me explain to you the difference between the Wise son and the Wicked: the Wise Son asks for details; he asks about the testimonies, the statutes, and the laws. The Wicked Son bundles everything together and asks about the whole thing, without any details; “What is this service to you?” The Wicked Son is impatient. He doesn’t want to hear all the details. He wants a simple answer. He suffers through the Seder with all its details. The Wise Son however, has the patience to pay attention to each detail. He doesn’t suffer through the Seder; he thrives. Try to be more patient, and you’ll be able to stay awake as long as you want.”

As usual, he was right. I stopped being impatient for the Seder to end so that I could finally claim to have been awake for an entire Seder. I began to pay attention to the details of each moment and each step. All of a sudden, I was no longer suffering. I learned a powerful lesson about patience.

I have been hospitalized many times. The hospital stay often was worse than the illness and pain. I couldn’t wait to get out, to return home to my own bed. I didn’t have patience for all the doctors and their tests, certainly not for all the theories. That is, until I remembered my father’s lesson about patienceI stopped resisting the details. I stopped resenting all the horrible aspects of being hospitalized. I practiced the patience of the Wise Son, and the suffering was mitigated; it became bearable.

I always wonder about the hours between the conclusion of the first Pesach and beginning of the journey out of Egypt which began only the next morning. The people had been instructed to eat the Pesach with their travel clothes on and their bags packed, as if they were immediately leaving on their trip. Yet, midnight came, the First Born of Egypt died, the Egyptians were crying, the plague itself was over, but they didn’t leave. They waited.

They waited just as they had to wait through all those months of the plagues wondering, “when are we finally going to leave?” They waited just as they had waited for redemption since the slavery began. All this waiting, why?

Eventually, these people ended up waiting forty years until they were able to enter Israel. All this waiting; why?

Patience. “Perhaps, there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.” (Franz Kafka, in W H Auden, The Dyer’s Hand)

The Redemption from Egypt is all about Time: God offers as His first commandment to the nation, the law of Sanctification of the New Moon. Many of the plagues are an issue of time; “When would you like me to remove the Frogs?” “Tomorrow I will stop the Hail.” “At midnight, God will slay all the First Born.” Patience is an essential key to learning about Time. Adam and Eve failed in Paradise because they were impatient. If we were to learn how to have a relationship with God, Above and Beyond Time, we had to learn to live according to His schedule, not ours.

The impatience of the Wicked Son causes us to miss the lessons of many essential details and important moments. It distracts us. It causes suffering. Patience, however, not only mitigates the suffering, it frees us of the boundaries of time; the first lesson of the Pesach offering, the lesson of Parshat Hachodesh.

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