When impatience is a virtue

by | Dec 19, 2013 | Torah Thought

On January 10, 1992 a shipment of Rubber Duckies was headed from Hong Kong to the United States. There was a terrible storm and 28,800 bath toys were washed overboard. Ten months later, on November 16, Rubber Duckies began to show up on the shores of Alaska. They spent about three years circling around with the oceans’ currents and showed up in Hawaii and Japan. Some made their way through the Bering Strait up to the Arctic Ocean and were actually frozen into the Arctic Drift. Oceanographers got involved and predicted that they would eventually reach the Northern Atlantic. Rewards were offered. Sure enough, the Rubber Duckies spent about six years travelling across the North Pole and started to move southward. They were spotted in Maine and Massachusetts. In 2007, a duck was found on a beach in England. Faded and covered with seaweed, these ducks have been sold at auctions for more than $1,000.

The most amazing thing about this story is that oceanographers were able to predict exactly where and when the ducks would land. The Rubber Duckies made a difficult, heroic, and famous journey, but there was no will power. They are just Rubber Duckies.

Sometimes people act like those Rubber Duckies. We resist change and insist on “going with the flow.”

When Moses first approached the Jewish people with plans for freedom, they complained. They didn’t want change and they didn’t want to challenge the Egyptians. Before Moses came, the Jewish slaves had been supplied with enough straw to fulfill their brick making quotas. Now they had to find their own straw. Moses damaged their reputations and increased their suffering.

Moses turned to G-d and complained, “Why have you caused this nation to suffer? Why did you send me?”

According to the Midrash, G-d responded by comparing Moses to the forefathers. He mourned the loss of greater generations. Moses had questioned G-d’s plan where the forefathers had never questioned Him.

The truth is that the forefathers also questioned G-d. When G-d promised the land of Israel to Avraham, he asked: “Bameh Eidah?” How do I know?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe 11) explains that Abraham’s question was a little different than that of Moses: When G-d first told Abraham that he would be given the land of Israel, he was dismayed. Abraham was not excited about the idea of conquering and expelling seven nations and 31 kings from the land of Canaan. He asked the question, “How will I know?” using the word ‘know’ in the biblical sense: “How can I make peace with this? How can I appreciate this? How can this relate to me?”

G-d responded to Abraham by explaining that the conquest of Canaan would not happen overnight. There is a natural progression in world history. Trends change, nations change, beliefs change, and lands change. Just as the world has progressed past idolatry and slavery, there have been and will be many progressions throughout history. G-d assured Abraham that there would be no sudden expulsion of the Canaanite people. Rather, the Canaanite society would disintegrate and deteriorate over time. They would succumb naturally to the Jewish invaders. Such is the way of the world and it was set to remain that way until Moses came along.

Moses grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh. His fellow Jews were oppressed and suppressed, but showed no interest in dissent or rebellion against Pharaoh. Only Moses understood that the time was finally right for conditions to improve.

Moses believed that the Pharaoh and the Jewish people were ready to start talking about freedom. Pharaoh refused to take him seriously and the Jews cursed him for getting involved, but Moses realized that if history was to progress at a natural pace, the Jews would not live to see the end of the story. His complaint to G-d was about the slow pace of change. He saw that the Jews did not have the stamina to take much more and that they had lost all desire to be free.

Moses begged G-d for a game changer.

G-d responded by rushing the Jewish people to freedom. The ensuing story of the 10 plagues and the Exodus was a story of Shock and Awe. Rather than wait, as Abraham had requested, G-d shocked Pharaoh and the Jewish people into change. Within a year, Pharaoh was begging the Jews to go and the Jews were free of bondage.

The quick change came at an expense. Attitude did not have time to catch up to reality. Pharaoh immediately regretted letting the Jews out, and the Jews begged to return to Egypt. We needed 40 years of wandering in the desert just to shake off our slave mentality and prepare ourselves to enter the land of Israel. Even after we entered the land of Israel, our freedom was not eternal. It lasted only 410 years.

We had needed more time, but Moses had realized that there was no more time.

The approaches of Abraham and of Moses both have merit: We can teach ourselves to be patient with the historic process, but we also need to be willing to introduce a game changer when necessary.

There is a lesson here for our own lives as well. Sometimes we need to be patient and have the luxury of sitting back and letting things progress naturally. There are times, however, when we need to take action. It is then that we, like Moses, need to use our unique abilities to effect some badly needed change.

We can be the ones to bring the world one step closer to perfection.

Don’t be a floating Rubber Duckie. Don’t just go where you are told and let the ocean’s currents and the passage of time pull you around. Don’t let yourself go into automatic pilot. Be patient, but be willing to effect change where necessary.

—Rabbi Sender Haber, B’nai Israel