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Patience, My Friend

May 2, 2020

Cryptically, Rami bar Abba teaches us an important lesson for life: “נטיעה מקטע רגליהון דקצביא, young trees will cut off the feet of butchers (Gemara Beitzah 25B).” What is Rami bar Abba teaching, and how is it relevant even for those of us who don’t own young tress and aren’t butchers?

Allow a brief introduction that will help in understanding Rashi's explanation.  In order for an animal to be kosher, it must not only be from the right species, but it must also be healthy and without significant blemish. A major rupture in a lung, for example, will render a cow to be unkosher. However, it would be very costly and time consuming to examine the organs of every animal that is slaughtered before proceeding with the process of preparing its meat. Therefore, the Rabbis allow us to rely on the concept of rov, or majority. Meaning, since the large majority of kosher animals are kosher, we can assume that a particular animal is healthy, and thus kosher, and cook or sell its meat even before examining its innards.  If later it is found that the animal was, in fact, injured, then the one who ate meat from that animal would only be in violation b’shogeg, as an accident, since he rightfully relied on the principle of rov. The poskim debate whether one should ideally conduct his affairs in the way or not, but that is a topic for another time.

What does this have to do with young trees? Rashi explains that it’s reference to our parsha. “וכי תבאו אל הארץ ונטעתם כל עץ מאכל וערלתם ערלתו את פריו שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים לא יאכל, and when you enter the land and plant a tree for food, your shall regard its fruit as forbidden, and for three years it should not be eaten (Vayikra 19:23).” This is the mitzvah knows as orlah, the obligation to wait three years of a tree’s life before enjoying its fruits. We learn something crucial from this mitzvah, and that is the lesson of patience. 

Dr. Alan Castel, author and professor of Cognitive Psychology at UCLA, writes about the lost art of patience. In today’s society we so value speed and efficiency that the virtue of patience, and its benefits, can be completely forgotten.  As an example, he writes about our “need” for high-speed internet:      

Good things seem to happen to those that can wait. As a more common example today, a slow Internet connection frustrates most of us. However, it also makes for more mindful searches and more focus and slower consumption of what they yield (as well as an appreciation for faster Internet!). We may be more thoughtful about how many emails we send, and what we include in these messages. Our sometimes spotty and slow Internet connection at home has also provided our family many breaks during Netflix, in which my daughters will actually talk to me about what they are thinking about, which can often be precious little thoughts, one that would not otherwise be expressed or discussed without these unanticipated pauses. [1]

It's Pirkei Avot season (join me at 7pm this Sunday night on Zoom to learn Pirkei Avot together!), and the very first lesson taught is, “הוו מתונים בדין, be patient in judgment (Pirkei Avot 1:1).”  R’ Chaim Shmulevitz (in Sichot Mussar, Maamer 43, page 182) explains that this is not a directive only for judges, but for all of us. Be patient in judgment, and be patient in life.  Indeed, good things happen to those who wait.

לב חרש מחשבון און רגלים ממהרות לרוץ לרעה, a mind that hatches evil plots, feet quick to run to evil (Mishlei 6:18).” True, often a sin begins with the mind, but too often it is carried out because of the quick running of the feet. If we would be more patient before running to do something, explains R’ Shmulevitz, then we would be more wise in our decision making, and we would be saved from our negative temptations.

Yes, the butcher is technically allowed to sell his meat even before a complete inspection of the animal’s health. But in doing so, he is being impatient. A farmer, on the other hand, has no choice but to be patient; he must wait a full three years before enjoying the fruits of his tree. In this way, the young trees will cut off the feet of butchers.” When a butcher sees the patience of the farmer, he must learn that even if it seems costly or inefficient, being patient in his work is something valuable and virtuous.

In fact, the very art of farming is one that demands patience. There is little one can do to speed up the natural process of plowing, seeding, and growing produce. A farmer works very hard, the labor is intense, and then he must be patient. Giving his trees and plants the proper to time to grow is the only way he will every enjoy the fruits of his labor. Perhaps this is truly the way the world was meant to be?

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Daniel Fox

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201706/why-should-we-slow-down-the-lost-art-patience

Tue, August 3 2021 25 Av 5781