We sometimes think of patience as a passive virtue, similar to endurance; the kind of patience that enables us to perform a repetitive task, to get through setbacks and challenges, or to wait for an answer to prayer without getting irritated or discouraged. Such patience is a virtue, as they say, but patience includes a more active response as well, not just enduring various trials, but maintaining focus and intensity through them all.
When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them; but he acted like a stranger toward them . . . (Gen. 42:7).
Of all the themes that run through the story of Joseph and his brothers, one we might overlook is Joseph’s patience. I’m not thinking of the tremendous patience he needed to get through twenty years of slavery, imprisonment, and estrangement without losing hope in God, but of the patience that brought him through what might have been even tougher—the testing of his brothers when they came down to Egypt to buy food.
Most civilizations have been cultures of the eye. Judaism, with its belief in the invisible God who transcends the universe, and its prohibition against visual representations of God, is supremely a civilization of the ear. . . . Hence, the key verb in Judaism is Shema, “listen.” To give dramatic force to the idea that God is heard, not seen, we cover our eyes with our hand as we say these words. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Koren Siddur)
Most of us have heard it said, at one point or another, “all good things come to those who wait.” We have also probably heard, “you can’t always get what you want.” For the most part we think of patience in relationship to those things that are eventually coming to us. This week’s parasha (Pinchas) reveals a deeper level of patience.
My granddaughter Orli recently joined a Little League team for special needs kids and I went to the opening game. When her team got up to bat, most of the kids used a batting tee, but one of her teammates opted to have the coach pitch the ball to him. As the batter missed ball after ball, and the pace of the game slowed to a crawl, no one complained. Finally, after about seventeen strikes, he hit a grounder and headed off for first base, as everyone cheered—both teams and the parents sitting around to watch. It was easy to be patient because we knew that this game wasn’t about sizzling action and gripping entertainment, but about giving disabled kids a chance to play ball.
The remarkable yet sad outcome is the punishment of Moses and Aaron: they will not set foot into the land. One can imagine the great sadness they felt - all their striving for the sake of Heaven and one mistake seals their fate.