Thursday, January 17, 2013

Patience, Child!

8 Shevat 5773 / Jan 18-19, 2013

In this week’s portion, Bo, we find plagues 8-10 (Locusts, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn), and the Israelites being thrown out of Egypt, as the Egyptians couldn’t get rid of them fast enough after plague #10 (which killed every Egyptian first born man and beast – including Pharaoh’s eldest son).  We find a number of the requirements surrounding the holiday of Passover as well (such as eating unleavened bread and bitter herbs when commemorating the Exodus)

One of the most interesting pieces of the interactions we find between Pharaoh and Moses this week is that Moses actually warned Pharaoh that the 10th plague was coming – and specified what it was going to be!  Thus, before the plague struck, Pharaoh knew that the next plague supposedly was the death of the firstborn.  And after having seen 9 other plagues come to fruition, you’d think he might have been a bit more concerned (Granted we learn that his heart was being “hardened” by God, implying that his decisions were not necessarily his own…).

We also learn that after plague #8, Pharaoh actually said that all the Israelite men could leave Egypt; and after plague #9, that all of the Israelites could leave, but their flocks and herds must stay behind. 

I’m shocked that Moses wouldn’t have approached God to ask whether or not the Israelites should take one of the deals – especially the latter one.  Who cares about flocks and herds when freedom is on the line after hundreds of years of bondage?

The result, however, was that not only did the Israelites eventually leave with all of their flocks and herds, but with most of the gold and silver of Egypt as well, as they had been instructed to “borrow” gold and silver items from the Egyptians the night before leaving, and God supposedly created an environment in which the Egyptians were willing to lend them.

Evidently, for our ancestors, being patient clearly paid off. 

Patience is something many of us struggle with.  There is always something making us feel the need to fill silences with speech or to act and jump into something. Those who truly excel at being patient are those who consciously practice, and who are intentional about how they act – both horizontally (between people), and vertically (with the Divine).

Our tradition makes clear that patience is a Jewish virtue.  For example, in the Book of Proverbs (which is in the “Writings” section of the Hebrew Bible), we learn:

"The patient man shows much good sense, but the quick-tempered man displays folly at its height" (Proverbs 14:29), and

"A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper is better than he who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:32).

This Shabbat, take a breath before responding to questions or comments made by others.  Recognize that first is not always best.  Acknowledge that just as our ancestors were patient enough to wait a bit longer after hundreds of years of bondage, the patience we’re capable of is immense.

Have patience with yourself.  Have patience with others.  And have patience with the Divine.

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