Jacob and the Virtue of Patience (Savlanut)
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week’s parashah tells us that Jacob ran away from his family’s home because he feared that Esau would kill him after Jacob tricked their father into giving him the blessing, the blessing that should have been given to Esau.
Jacob, our patriarch, reached Haran, where his mother’s family lived. He saw Rachel there, and it was love at first sight. It is written in the Torah: “Jacob kissed Rachel and broke into tears.” (Bereshit 29: 11). He was so excited to find the love of his life that he cried with emotion.
After that, Jacob made an agreement with Laban, Rachel’s brother. Jacob would work for him for seven years in order to marry Rachel.
As you may know, after Jacob worked seven years for Laban, he didn’t fulfill his promise. Laban gave his oldest daughter Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel.
Despite the fact that Laban cheated him, giving Jacob Leah instead of Rachel, Jacob decided to work another seven years to marry his beloved Rachel. His love for Rachel made Jacob’s life happy and meaningful. In sum, Jacob was forced to work for Laban for a total of twenty years! Anyone would feel highly burdened by working so many years to get married.
We can affirm that Jacob has acquired the attribute of patience, Savlanut, during his life. He had persistence despite the obstacles and challenges he found in his life path.
The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut (סבלנות). The root, s-v-l (ס-ב-ל), gives rise to words that mean “suffer” (sevel) and “burdens” (sivlot). We can learn from this that patience is not a pleasant experience and that it implies the capacity to live with and accept reality — even for a moment — when reality is not what we wish it might be. Patience can therefore be understood as the ability to bear a burden until the appropriate time for setting it aside. We all experience frustrations in our lives which require patience.
According to Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, who was a Haredi rabbi born in Berlin in the early part of the twentieth century, and author of Alei Shur, a musar classic book: “The patient person is exactly like someone who is carrying a heavy package. Even though it weighs upon him, he continues to go on his way, and doesn’t take a break from carrying it.”
Jacob had to carry a heavy package in his life but it didn’t discourage him to continue. He had patience and, at the end, he achieved what he desired the most.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Satanov (1749–1826) defines the trait of savlanut, patience, as “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.” In other words, the virtue of savlanut consists of bearing or suffering something unpleasant or painful, without increasing the suffering.
Rabbi Bahya ben Joseph ibn (1050–1120), rabbi and Jewish philosopher wrote in his book “Duties of the Heart”: “cultivate a broad heart — this refers to the trait of savlanut for one who has a narrow heart is not able to bear anything.” (Duties of the Heart, Sixth Treatise on Submission 6:5)
I believe that Savlanut, patience, is a very important virtue. Little children lose their patience easily but adults are able to tolerate distress much easier. When we expect to get everything immediately, we lose the virtue of patience easily. We should work hard to acquire this virtue. We should follow Jacob’s attitude, and develop the virtue of Savlanut, patience, in our lives.