D’var Torah: Rabbi Carl Perkins (Bamidbar)

“Are We There Yet?”

“Are we there yet?” That was one of the many pleas that my wife’s cousin would often present to his parents. In response to this and similar pleas, they would sometimes simply say, “DP.” “DP” was their family’s shorthand for a simple message: “Develop patience.”

Patience — savlaNOOT, in Hebrew — is, I think we would all agree, a virtue.  But if it is a virtue, how do we pursue it? How do we achieve it?

This is not an idle question at this time. Most of us are spending most of our time, morning, noon and night, in our homes. Most of our kids are doing the same. We’re interacting in close quarters. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air.  When will things be different? What will the summer be like? Will we go back to school in the fall? When?

We can learn something from the experience of our ancestors during their journey through the Wilderness (the midBAR, in Hebrew).  Just a month or so after crossing the Sea of Reeds, they arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai.  Moses left them to go up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. “I’ll be back after 40 days!” he said, according to a midrash. (Note the exact language.)  On the morning of the fortieth day, they looked up the mountain expectantly.  “Where is he?” When’s he coming down?” All morning long they waited.  No Moses.

Finally, their murmurings took a turn: “He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back at all!” In desperation, they turned to Aaron to build for them a Golden Calf, and then, as they were worshipping it, Moses appeared. He was angry. “I said I was coming back after 40 days!” They had assumed that he was coming back on the morning of the 40th day, whereas he had meant that he would only return after 40 complete days. If only they had waited that extra half-day!!!

Lack of patience led to a catastrophe.  

It is clear: the stakes of impatience are high.

So, what do we do? How do we “stay the course”? How do we keep doing what we are doing — maintaining physical isolation, washing our hands, wearing masks — when the time-line is so unclear? What can provide us with the confidence, the commitment, the perseverance?

It’s not easy, of course. The Hebrew word “savlanut” is related to the word, “lisBOL,” “to bear a burden.” Waiting — without knowing how long we need to wait — is a burden. It’s a challenge — for our children and for ourselves — that we shouldn’t underestimate.

The answer, though, is straightforward: Let’s remember where we’re going.  Let’s keep our goal before us. Knowing our goal, and knowing that it lies ahead; knowing that we can, eventually, as a society, achieve it, can lighten our load, and lighten our step.  

Let’s remember how lucky we are. Many of us are sheltering in place with our families; we have homes in which to live; we have means of communication that were unthinkable even 20 years ago.  We can do this. All we need to do is to remind ourselves of what lies ahead — and then, together with one another, day after day, put one foot ahead of the other. 

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Carl Perkins, Temple Aliyah, Schechter alumni parent


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