The Mystery of Marriage: Infinite Patience

Rectifying Oneself and Rectifying Others

It is indeed a great achievement to reach the genuineness to be able to discuss one's shortcomings frankly with his partner. But one must still take care to apply this objectivity only to his own lackings and problems, enlisting his partner's aid and support in rectifying them through prayer and self-refinement.

With regard to judging (or condemning) the apparent shortcomings and misdeeds of an other, our sages have said, "Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place" (Avot 2:4). Chassidut explains that since one can never really reach an other's "place," never fully understand the motivations (the "why," whether conscious or unconscious) behind his behavior, he is unable to judge him (Sefat Emet).

Nonetheless, "until you have reached his place" implies that one should try to understand his fellow as best he can, to draw himself as close to his fellow's "place" as possible. Drawing oneself close to an other means relating to him (both intellectually and emotionally) with greater and deeper expression of love.

As one comes closer to his fellow, his perspective towards him begins to change. He begins to see him in a more favorable light, and even to recognize that the apparent blemishes he had observed in him are actually reflections of identical, though less apparent, blemishes in himself. He is now able to fulfill the complementary dictum of our sages: (Avot 1:6) "Judge all men favorably," and to apply the teaching of the Ba'al Shem Tov on the verse "You shall surely rebuke [literally: ?rebuke you shall rebuke'] your fellow": first one must rebuke himself (with regard to the same fault he sees in his fellow), and only then is he able to constructively rebuke his fellow.

This teaching of the Ba'al Shem Tov follows and lends additional insight to the advice given by Reish Lakish: (Bava Batra 60b) "First rectify yourself, and then rectify others." The word used here for "rectify" (keshot) literally means "adorn." As "adorning" alludes to relationship of husband and wife, we infer that the general teaching "First rectify yourself and then rectify others" most specially applies to the two partners of marriage.

The Antidote to Sin

When one realizes that the rectification of an other depends upon the rectification of oneself, one learns to be patient (with others). Patience is the antidote to anger. Only towards one's own evil inclination is anger in order, as our sages teach: "One should always stir up the anger of his good inclination against his evil inclination" (Berachot 5a). With regard to others in general, and one's spouse in particular, one must strive to assume the Divine attribute of "infinite patience."

Infinite patience is the consciousness–the infinitely broad "space" of mind–which fosters one's ability to wait for conflict to resolve itself, to suspend judgment, to continuously check and control one's innate tendency to relate to others impulsively. It is the key to avoiding the damage one inflicts upon oneself and others when unable to control the responses of his "first nature" to life situations.

All of the great, archetypal sins recorded in the Torah resulted from a basic lack of patience:

The primordial sin was that of the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Had Adam and Eve waited a mere three hours until the onset of Shabbat before eating from the tree, they would have inherited the blessings of Eden for all of eternity. It was their lack of patience that brought upon the fall of that initial sublime reality, the decree of death for mankind and the protracted exile of man from paradise.

The people of Israel as a whole returned to the Edenic state, freed from the angel of death, upon receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. They forfeited this state with the sin of the golden calf, the idol meant to replace their leader, Moses, unable to wait for him to descend from the mountain. Our sages refer to this sin as the archetypal sin of a public (Avodah Zarah 4b).

David and Bathsheba were destined for each other from the beginning of time. They were intended to be the consummate rectification of the primordial couple, Adam and Eve. David took Bathsheba prematurely (Sanhedrin 107a; Zohar 3:78b; Shabbat 55b), in the words of our sages: "he partook of her before she had ripened." This impulsive impatience was the essence of his sin, which our sages refer to as the archetypal sin of an individual.

Both marriage partners need to be constantly vigilant in cultivating patience. Patience depends upon faith and trust in G-d: if we want something and do not receive it, it is because we do not yet sufficiently deserve it. When spouses realize this, they become much more patient with each other. Rather than demanding that their partner be more perfect than themselves, they focus on rectifying their own character first, with G-d's help.

With patience comes the ability to transcend one's innate mortal character and fulfill the commandment to emulate G-d: "Just as He is merciful, so be you merciful…Just as he is infinitely patient, so be you infinitely patient (Shabbat133b; Mishneh TorahDeot 1:6)." Such was the temperament of Moses, as it says: (Numbers 12:3) "And the man Moses was very humble," which Rashi explains as "lowly and patient."

The Land of Israel

The property of infinite patience is conceptually linked with the nature of the Land of Israel (Likutei Moharan 1:155). The Holy Land is frequently referred to in the Bible as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8), evoking an image of the sublime tranquillity of spirit one would hope to experience in one's home, wherever it be.

The Hebrew for "milk and honey" (chalav udvash) is numerically equal to "infinite patience" (erech apaim, 352), intimating that the attribute of patience can best be acquired in the Holy Land. Israel is the gateway to Eden, where G-d had originally intended that the first man and woman live and grow spiritually together, relating to one another in love and infinite patience, and thereby merit eternal bliss.

When one of his Chassidim asked him whether or not to move to Israel, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch answered: "Make the Land of Israel here." In accordance with our above understanding of "infinite patience" and its relation to the land of Israel, we can infer that the moral of this saying is: "wherever you are, learn to be patient." Impatience represents the existential state of living "outside the land of Israel," while serene composure manifests the very essence of the land itself.

Agility With Deliberation

True patience does not imply passivity in one's service of G-d; in fact, it even enhances one's energetic drive (literally, "agility") to rectify reality. True patience engenders awareness that G-d is ever-present in one's reality and influencing–through His will and providence–the outcome of his life's endeavors. The balanced condition that such an awareness inspires is referred to by the Ba'al Shem Tov as one of "agility with deliberation" (Keter Shem Tov [ed.Kehos], addendum 169; Sefer HaSichot 5700, p. 52.).

From all the above it is clear that infinite patience is the key to self-rectification. To the extent that one has succeeded in rectifying the attributes of his own soul, having integrated infinite patience into his very being–it being reflected in all his expressions–can he then proceed to rectify others with sweet and gentle words, as it is said, "The words of the wise [one who possesses the insight to first rectify himself], when spoken gently, are harkened" (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

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