Friday, February 25, 2011

Ki Tissa Sermon

This sermon was delivered last Friday, February 18th.

This week’s portion contains the story of the Golden Calf, according to our tradition the greatest sin in the Torah.  The root of this sin is impatience.  The people, Moses, and even God stand guilty of impatience.  In fact, so many of our own problems are caused by this very same flaw.

The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut.  The root of this word is saval, meaning to bear a heavy load or even to suffer.  There is much to learn from the Hebrew’s root.  Patience does involve great work and at times, even suffering.  Waiting is not easy.  This is why the Mussar masters suggested that patience is the most difficult of middot to master.  But mastering patience is what we must do to train our soul.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel wrote in Heshbon HaNefesh (An Accounting of the Soul): “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.”  Often we aggravate the situation through impatience.  We cry and scream about things we have no control to change.  The Mussar tradition also imagined that training our souls is sometimes violent and painful.  Like Mount Sinai where God revealed the Torah with thunder and lightning, we learn, we gain knowledge when our soul quakes. 

Again Menachem Mendel writes: “Woe to the pampered man [or woman] who has never been trained to be patient.  Either today or in the future, he is destined to sip from the cup of affliction.”  We are indeed raising a generation of children who we protect from strife and despair.  It is inevitable.  We will face difficulties.  We will be confronted by situations beyond our control.  And so we must train ourselves to be patient.

This is not the same as accepting fate.  A dose of impatience leveled against the world’s problems is noble and good.  This is part of the lesson we learn from the youth in Egypt and the Middle East.  Judaism believes that we can shape our destinies.  We are relearning this lesson from the very same place where we once suffered slavery.

We must be patient against those things we can’t control.  Forgive the mundane example, it serves no one to scream at the cashier or yell at other drivers.  It won’t move traffic faster or cause him to bag your groceries any faster.  Accept what can’t be changed.  Rise up against what must be changed.

Beware of confusing the two. Had the people exercised even the smallest dose of patience they would not have committed the greatest of sins. And so let us learn patience from this week’s Torah portion.

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