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Transmuting Impatience

Transmuting Impatience

Parshat Bereishit

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When I was about four years old, my mother took me to an adult party with the members of her cerebral palsy club. It was at someone’s elegant and spacious home, which for me, having lived in a tiny tenement apartment, was breathtakingly beautiful. However, since I was the only child there, I was very bored just watching all the adults chattering away. I found myself roaming around and exploring all the rooms. When I came across a door leading to a dark staircase, I couldn’t resist tiptoeing down into a mysterious realm.

At first, when I reached the bottom, I saw only a half-finished basement. But as I kept walking, my disappointment vanished as I saw, beneath a dimly lit window, a chalkboard with a box of colored chalk on the ledge. In what later might be referred to as my first mystical moment, I saw all the infinite possibilities of the universe, as well as of my life, existing in that magical combination of a clear, blank slate and an array of beautiful implements of creation.

I was so awestruck that I grabbed those pieces of color and drew and drewHowever, I did not think about asking for permission to use the chalk. I was so awestruck that I grabbed those pieces of color and drew and drew, like I was intoxicated. I don’t even remember if I told anyone, or at what point I may have been responsible enough to feel guilty, but at some point I did. Looking back, if I would have first asked permission, maybe someone from the nice house would have lent me the board or the chalk, or offered me drawing lessons—something of lasting value. Instead, I was left with the association that beauty might be something to feel guilty about.

I suspect that is kind of what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The holy Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, one of the most important figures in Jewish mysticism, tells us that if they would have waited three hours until Shabbat, they would have had permission to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, because they would have first partaken of the Tree of Life. But was it really their fault? Weren’t they tempted by the serpent that G‑d placed in the garden? Rashi tells us that the serpent saw the first couple being intimate, became jealous and seduced Eve. This also took place before Shabbat. Why is waiting until Shabbat such a big deal for the first human couple?

Chassidic sources describe the vast difference between a weekday state of consciousness and a Shabbat state of being. While the former is a state of fragmentation, the latter is a state of wholeness and oneness. If Adam and Eve would have waited, then everything they would have done that involved this world, a world of pirud, separateness, would have been imbued with holiness and connection. Indeed, this, says Rav Dessler in his Michtav Me-Eliyahu, was how the serpent tricked them.

The Midrash says that the serpent’s ploy was as follows: “The reason that G‑d forbade you to eat from the tree is because He does not want competition. He Himself ate from the tree and created the world.” On a simple level, this argument seems unconvincing to anyone, let alone the creatures made by G‑d’s direct hand! However, Chassidut explains that the word for “world” in Hebrew is olam, which also means “concealment.” Therefore, the serpent was actually saying that G‑d created the world through this tree, which represents concealment, and does not want you to imitate Him. The response of Eve, and then Adam, was: “Well, if G‑d made concealments, they must be necessary and even valuable components in creation through concealment. Therefore, if we were created in the image of G‑d, we too can create even more concealments by disobeying the prohibition of eating from this tree.”

Eve realized that the Tree of Knowledge is a vital component of earthly lifeWith this approach, we can better understand an observation of the Izhbitzer Rebbe, that Eve really was the wiser one in realizing that the Tree of Knowledge is a vital component of earthly life. This is what Adam really meant when he said to G‑d, “The woman that you gave to me, she gave it [the fruit] to me.” This was not about “passing the buck,” as the literal level seems to imply; rather, Adam was making the point that he believed G‑d gave him the gift of a wife because of her added insight. Indeed, Adam too realized this later, when even after the sin he calls Eve eim kol chai, the mother of all life.

However, according to the Izhbitzer Rebbe, the obvious question remains: “If it was so good, why was it bad?” He answers that her action was motivated by the voice of the serpent, and not by the voice of her inner wisdom. He also adds that in the future we will read the original command about the tree: “You may eat from all trees of the garden and from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good . . . [but from the knowledge of] evil you shall not eat.”

Here are the actual words of the Izhbitzer Rebbe in his book, Beit Yaakov:

Eve was given to Adam in actuality as an assistant, so that Adam would listen to his words. However, the violation occurred because concealment came from the serpent. But if it [the initiative to eat] came from Eve alone, there would not have been a transgression. How much more will this be true in the future, when the transgression will be repaired, and there will shine a very great light from this act [of Eve’s].

Adam understood that she would be the cause of this very great level, for he himself did not want to take this risk, but rather she drew him into this. Thus, Adam recognized that Eve elevated him in the ways of G‑d in matters that were beyond the grasp of his perception, and that the essence of life flowed into him through her. Therefore he called her the mother of all life, meaning that all comes from her. (And the reason the name Eve, חוה—chet, vav, hei in Hebrew—is spelled with a vav is because, as the Ari writes, with a vav its numerical equivalent is 19, which are the hidden letters of the divine name [the letters י, ה, ו, ה add up to 26, but if you spell out the name of each letter separately, the additional letters add up to 19; 26 + 19 = 45, which is the numerical value of אדם, Adam].

If we put these perspectives together with the statement of the Ari, that if they would have waited until Shabbat they could have eaten from the tree, we might come up with the following proposition.

Without trust, our relationship with another person or with G‑d becomes impairedMost actions in life are motivated by an admixture of self-gratification and higher values. Our job, in many ways, is to refine out the self-gratification and amplify the higher values. When we can do so, you could say that we then operate from a more lofty, or Shabbat, perspective. When we do not, it is more like a self-centered, or weekday, perspective. The voice of the trickster, which is another meaning of “serpent,” is the voice that fools us into thinking that our motives are less subjective than they really are. The primary test of discrimination is a good sense of timing, and the patience to wait for the right moment.

Many serious sins in the Torah were due to impatience: the sin of the Golden Calf, the sin of Aaron’s sons, and the sin of King Saul who could not listen to the prophet Samuel when told to wait for his appearance before beginning a battle. Is impatience, then, such a serious flaw? I believe it is, because it expresses a lack of trust. Without trust, our relationship with another person or with G‑d becomes impaired and weakened.

For Eve, and then Adam, the trust was to wait until Shabbat. For us, the trust is that if we are meant to do or have something, even if it seems like the most valuable possession in the world, we should restrain ourselves from going after it, if it is not aligned with G‑d’s will.

If people after the first sin are meant to fix that sin (in particular, the people of Israel after the Torah was given), what precisely is the fixing? And if Eve took the “first bite,” what is her unique role in the fixing? I believe it is primarily the development of trust in G‑d, which is what Shabbat is all about. We stop our weekday activity, confident in the trust that not only won’t we lose anything by not working toward any material goal, but, in the words of the Zohar, “from her [Shabbat] all the other days are blessed.” This trust leads to patience, which fosters the necessary objectivity to wait for guidance from the divine before taking action, even during the week.

Since leaving the Garden of Eden, human impulse is an admixture of both good and evil. Our task is not to squelch the impulse, but to mine it, by toning down the “mine” aspect. In other words, to draw forth the jewel from the sand and earth that buries it. If indeed woman is the ezer, the catalyst for this task, how do we see this actualized?

The woman’s role of lighting the Shabbat candles eighteen minutes before sunset suggests that it is the woman’s initiative that draws down into the weekday the light which leads to the Shabbat—the consciousness necessary to re-engage the world in a sacred manner. If we, as a people, are at the Friday afternoon of history, then it makes sense that we, the Jewish women, are the catalysts for ushering in the redemption before sunset.

Yehudis Fishman has been teaching Torah and chassidic philosophy to people of all ages and backgrounds for over fifty years. For the last six years she has been the spiritual director of congregation Aish Kodesh in Boulder, Colo., and continues to teach and counsel. Her qualities of erudition, relevance, sensitivity and humor endear her to a broad spectrum of multigenerational students.
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Howard Hill Phoenix October 18, 2017

Transmuting impatience insightful, helpful and beautiful...thank you so much Reply

Rabbi Farhi brooklyn, NY United States May 29, 2012

Jewish history and weekly torah portion I think your article was so good and i can fallow and read your article and we knew that the we can teach more people about your article. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, ny May 7, 2012

Patience and Bitachon Very insightful,deep and yet relatable.
Thank you. Reply

Ariella Bracha Waldinger Tzfat, Israel April 27, 2010

Transmuting Impatience I loved the insight of the colored chalk . The rest of the article took my breath away with the varied spiritual dimensions presented . It was incredibly insightful and inspiring....a real treasure. Reply

Dee H. Sagnaw, usa October 29, 2009

Thank you for your Insights... Your article is most thought provolking and enlightening. Explaining patience with the backdrop, or in relationship with Shabbat, made so much sense to me. Thank you. Reply

Celine Bennett Elliot Lake, Canada, Ontario June 2, 2009

Paradigm shift Thank you for the insight. Reply

Michal Haber Rio de Janeiro, Brazil May 20, 2009

Adam &Eve Thank yo so much! I am a schlucha in brazil,i wanted to read something intresting and i found it!Keep doing it! Reply

Ilana November 4, 2008

Thank you wow... this article was incredible you hit so many personal points in my life. I'm going through a struggle to "Lachzor Betshuva", (return to a Jewish way of life) but I am determined to achieve it. With Hashem's help sooner than later. Reply

Karen November 3, 2008

Will your posts be weekly? I was very moved by this article on Bereishit. Will you have time to write these wonderful articles for every Parshah? Reply

david October 28, 2008

colored chalk perhaps the metaphor of the chalk and the blank slate are the colors that radiate from the shabbat candles--each week we descend the dark stairs of the physical (wealthy) world only to catch (steal) a glimpse of the infinite light of the world to come. Reply

Laura October 28, 2008

Yehudis Fishman Thank you, and thank you to Hashem for you. Please keep writing Yehudis, you are amazing. Reply

Feige Denver, CO October 27, 2008

Terrific Article This is such a wonderful article! When I moved to Israel 20 years ago, the first Hebrew word I learned was "savlanut" (patience). Thank you chabad.org for posting such a beautiful, inspiring article! And thank you Morah Yehudis for sharing your amazing knowledge and insight with us! Reply

Anonymous October 25, 2008

Work of Art (in words) a terrific Article transmitting delightful Torah thoughts seamlessly woven into an Important "Life Lesson" theme. thank you Moreh Fishman and Chabad.org for hosting such stimulating work. Reply

Anonymous via chabadcentrepointe.com October 24, 2008

Thanks A wonderful essay. Impatience has become a little bit of "nature" - people give up on their healthy lifestyles, because they don't see the results right away...road rage...and other "social" rages - is because we as a society have become so impatient. We rush through one thing to get to the next, never being present or even enjoying the moment. Shabbat truly gives us the opportunity to slow things down. Thanks again for this essay. Reply

Rishe Deitsch bklyn, usa October 19, 2008

Mrs. Fishman's writing Dittoes, Zeesy. Reply

Zeesy Posner Skokie, IL October 19, 2008

Transmuting Impatience This article is a true masterpiece. Kol hakavod (with great respect and thanks) to Mrs. Fishman and Chabad.org. Reply

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