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Losing our patience  #769

03/10/2023 06:08:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ki Tissa

"Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that fellow Moses—the man who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.  (Exodus 32:1).

Losing our Patience

These days, it doesn’t take much for us to become impatient.

When we call someone, and it goes to voice mail—we become irritated. When the train to the city is delayed by a few minutes—we become annoyed.

When someone we know does not follow through on a commitment, or repeats a certain behavior—we often take it personally. We want answers and results now, and if the world around us doesn’t immediately comply, too often we become quickly exasperated.

This past week, I was discussing the redesign of our synagogue website with a branding expert, who reminded me that on average we have 0.5 seconds online to attract someone’s attention.

And if we don’t—either by bad presentation or content—people move on. How impatient we’ve become.

The issue of impatience takes center stage in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, as we reread the famous story of the Golden Calf.

It’s now been 40 days since Moses left the Israelite camp to discuss the finer details of the Ten Commandments with God at the top of Mount Sinai.

It is said that when Moses eventually passed away, he took 2,500 oral laws with him that emanated from the Ten Commandments. Jewish people have been discussing, modifying and adapting these laws for thousands of years.

But here we are, 40 days after Moses’ departure, and the people become—impatient.

“Did Moses say he would be back on the 40th day or after the 40th day?” they ask.

And when Moses fails to appear promptly on that 40th day, the people begin to pursue other avenues. They reject the idea of a spiritual, invisible, unifying god and, recalling the physicality of their Egyptian slave masters, begin building something tangible—a golden calf.

We don’t have reach far today to relate to things physical. We have our own golden calves: iPhones, flat screen TVs, electric cars, designer labels.

Just a few years ago, when a new model iPhone was about to be released, people camped outside Apple stores—often ignoring those in need who walked by them.

This week’s Torah portion reminds us that it does not take much for us—then and now—to become impatient.

When Moses finally returns from the mountain top, he observes a commotion in the camp. At first, he thinks this could be part of a celebration in the aftermath of a military victory.

But upon closer scrutiny, he realizes the Israelites are entranced by idol worship. In a fit of rage, Moses takes the original Ten Commandments and smashes the tablets.

God is also angry.

God suggests to Moses that perhaps it would be best to destroy the Israelites, and reboot the nation beginning with Moses and his descendants.  

Moses convinces God to reconsider, and within that model Yom Kippur is based.

Moses asks God to forgive the nation, and God replies—salachti kidvarecha—”I have forgiven them as you have asked.”

Yet, in addition to the lessons learned from the Golden Calf episode, this week’s Torah portion teaches us something else.

It brings to light the consequences of impatience, and the obsession with immediate gratification.

In a world where we can use our iPhones to order groceries or book a flight while waiting at a red light, this week’s parashah challenges us to consider our own connection with impatience.

So much of our society and our economy is based on impatience. Twitter and other social media challenge us to get to the point in a few words or less. Too much background or too many details are deemed boring.

Blogger Greg Longoria notes that our demand for immediate satisfaction does not really enhance—or provide meaning—to our lives. In fact, he says, “Impatience can ruin your life.”

 “We don’t need a global pandemic to know we’re prone to impatience,” he writes. “I know my blood pressure skyrockets when I’m in the wrong line to get popcorn before a movie, in the slow lane of traffic to pick-up my kid, or delayed by a slow trainee in the check-out line.

“Impatience can damage friendships, wreck a marriage, or ruin a career. Impatience can steal the joy out of any moment.”

Cato the Elder coined this phrase 1,700 years ago: “Patience is a Virtue.” His words ring true today.

The Biblical story of the Golden Calf is a stain on Jewish history, but it does encourage us to consider parallels in our own lives.

As with every parashah, we are inspired by these ancient texts to transpose moral lessons into our daily lives, as we pose questions and pursue solutions relevant to our times.

What are today's golden calves? Who or what make us impatient, and is it helping or harming our own sense of inner peace? 

All it took was a minor misunderstanding about when Moses would return for the Israelites to reject the Ten Commandments, and embrace idol worship.

Indeed, this week’s Torah portion inspires us to consider that the capacity to tolerate uncertainty and disappointment is an important virtue.

It’s a significant lesson for us to embrace, as we consider the importance of forgiveness, and acceptance that life around us will not always be perfect.

Ultimately, our Sages teach that life is not about the pursuit of pleasure, but rather the quest for ultimate meaning.

This week, the Torah inspires us to consider that patience is an important part of that journey.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784