Elul Reflections: 3 Elul 5779

One of the most valuable practices that I have invested my spiritual energy into is the study of Mussar - the Jewish ethical practise of self-reflection and examination. There are many attributes that students of Mussar work on as a part of their study of this now centuries-old field of self-improvement. Some of the attributes include: compassion, honesty, responsibility, and orderliness. Out of the many thought-provoking and spiritually nourishing traits to reflect on, one of the attributes that I found to be the most meaningful to study was the trait of patience.

In Hebrew, the word for patience ‘sav-la-noot’, is connected to the word ‘sovel’: to endure a burden or to carry a heavy weight. These words ask if one is able to bear it, whatever ‘it' may be this time around, for just a little while longer? The English etymology of ‘patience’ is also rooted in the idea of undergoing a tremendous ordeal. This is why someone in a hospital bed is called a ‘patient’.

The word ‘suffering’, both in Hebrew and English, is also linked to ‘patience’ and the notion of holding on to something that is overwhelming. The Hebrew ‘sovel’ is most commonly translated as suffering. Patience may be a virtue precisely because it is so challenging - insufferably so.

During my practice of Mussar and my study of texts on the theme of ‘patience’, I began to see ‘suffering’ and ‘patience’ through a different lens. I began to see how we are all professional weight-lifters and we did not even know. It is not just the people in hospital beds, instead, as we move through the world and continue to carry the burdens of life - we are all patients in a broken and imperfect world. Each of us is constantly building the strength to get through our various challenges. Perhaps the maxim ‘time heals all wounds’ is not about a passive passage of time, but rather about our active ability to endure that results in self-healing.

However, some of the times we ourselves are the imperfect beings in this imperfect world that cause ‘suffering’ or ‘weight-bearing’ onto the shoulders of others. Whether we had a bad day or because we were triggered by trauma from the past, we attempt to unburden the weight from our shoulders by placing it onto others. Perhaps in our frustration, anger, or inability to be ‘patient’ in difficult circumstances we even succeed in relieving ourselves of the heaviness by putting it onto others. Yet we all know that this is not a sustainable strategy.

The High Holy Days are an important time for us. These Days of Awe demand that we see the weights and burdens that all those around us are carrying on their shoulders. We are even asked to recognise our role in their heaviness. It is said that the day of Yom Kippur itself grants atonement between humans and God, but there is no atonement between human and human without repentance. By asking forgiveness from and granting forgiveness to others there is not only atonement but there is also a lighter world.

-- Rabbi Misha Clebaner, North Shore Temple Emanuel

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