Two biblical poems are ascribed to Moses: one delivered after Israel crosses the sea to safety at the beginning of their wanderings in the desert, and the other here, in this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, which marks the end of this segment of the journey.
These two poems frame the wilderness experience — both deal with Israel’s survival. At the sea, it is a hymn of thanksgiving — the physical existence of the nation now secure. At the borders of the Promised Land, Moses describes the many ways that God safeguarded the people of Israel throughout the wilderness experience. He reminds those gathered that God was quite patient, never giving up on them despite constant complaining, poor choices and all around frustrating actions. God may have reprimanded and provided consequences to wayward actions (such as Moses’ own lack of judgment preventing him from entering the Promised Land alongside his flock), yet God remained steadfast in support and love for us.
This message echoes the words we just heard as we stood before the open ark on Yom Kippur: “Adonai, Adonai, rachum v’chanun…The Eternal One, the Eternal God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger (i.e., endlessly patient), loving and true, showing mercy to thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon (Exodus 34:6-7).”
Believing in a God who is “slow to anger” is a divine gift, allowing us the opportunity to fail, pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off and learn from our mistakes. Affirming a God that is loving, merciful, gracious, patient and forgiving means that God is always on our side — in the wilderness and beyond.
God’s patience is something to be emulated. We, too, must be “slow to anger” in the trying situations in which we so often find ourselves. How do we “keep our cool” during times that challenge our ability to remain calm and patient? How do we prevent ourselves from giving up out of frustration? How do we act like God did, endlessly patient when faced with the troubles and complaints of those around us?
We do so by remembering that we also struggle, fail and complain. We, too, are not always optimistic about our ability to succeed. We, too, do not always get everything right on the first attempt. Patience for others begins with an understanding of our own missteps and imperfections. When we are patient with ourselves, when we accept our own limitations, we can better appreciate those we find in others. Then we can be like our divine example, patient and kind, just like God was with us in the wilderness.
In 5780, let us be “slow to anger” — endlessly patient with ourselves so that we, in turn, can be endlessly patient with each other. pjc
Rabbi Jessica Locketz is a rabbi and director of education of Temple Emanuel of South Hills. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.