Acquiring the Virtue of Savlanut, patience
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Many times, in the Torah and in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), God expresses frustration, disappointment, and anger over Israel’s persistent disobedience. Despite God’s anguish, we can find many examples which show us that God will not abandon the people of Israel.
This week’s parashah contains an extensive list of conditional blessings and curses. This list expresses that if the people obey God’s commandments, they will be rewarded and if not, they will be punished.
Reading these conditional statements, you may think that God’s love for the people of Israel depends only on their good behavior. However, at the end of this list, God demonstrates a different attitude:
“For the land shall be forsaken of them, making up for its sabbath years by being desolate of them, while they atone for their iniquities; for the abundant reason that they rejected My rules and spurned My laws.
Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them: for I the LORD am their God. I will remember in their favor the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God: I, the LORD”. (Vayikra 26:44-45)
God affirms that despite the Israelites’ misdeeds and rejection of God’s rules, God will not reject them or abandon his covenant.
Despite the repeated times that the people turned away from God and his commandments, God has patience for the people of Israel, hoping that they will change their course. He explicitly affirmed that He will not abandon them because of their disobedience.
This shows us that God is patient, and has compassion for us even when our actions hit way off the mark, so we have time to come to deeper realizations, make amends, and return to a straighter way.
The portion of the Torah of this week teaches us that God is patient with us and, therefore, we should follow his example, having patience with the people around us and with the frustrations we experience in our lives.
The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut (סבלנות). The root, s-v-l (ס-ב-ל), gives rise to words that mean “suffer” (sevel) and “burdens” (sivlot). We can learn from this that patience is not a pleasant experience and that it implies the capacity to live with and accept reality — even for a moment — when reality is not what we wish it might be. Patience can therefore be understood as the ability to bear a burden until the appropriate time for setting it aside. We all experience frustrations in our lives which require patience.
It is written in the Book of Proverbs: “A hot-tempered man provokes a quarrel; a patient man calms strife” (Prov. 15:18).
It is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “… better a patient spirit than a haughty spirit. Don’t let your spirit be quickly vexed, for vexation abides in the breast of fools” (Eccles. 7:8–9).
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Satanov (1749–1826) defines the trait of savlanut, patience, as “when something bad happens to you and you did not have the power to avoid it, do not aggravate the situation even more through wasted grief”. In other words, the virtue of savlanut consist on bearing or suffering something unpleasant or painful, without increasing the suffering.
Rabbi Bahya ben Joseph ibn (1050–1120), rabbi and Jewish philosopher wrote in his book “Duties of the Heart”: cultivate a broad heart — this refers to the trait of savlanut for one who has a narrow heart is not able to bear anything. (Duties of the Heart, Sixth Treatise on Submission 6:5)
In this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic and social distancing restrictions, it is easy to lose patience due to the uncertainty and unprecedent things we are living. However, at the same time, I believe we can learn during these days to acquire the virtue of Savlanut, patience. We need to learn how to face this difficult reality, with suffering and bearing the burden, waiting until this reality would change in the near future. Weeks and months pass and still we don’t see any better. However, we need to learn to be patient and believe that a better time will come soon.
May we be able to follow God’s example of having patience in this time that we tend to lose our patience so easily. Let’s wait with patience and pray that better days come soon for all of us.