A few months ago, Chani bought a bunch of green bananas. The next morning, when Gavriel, one of our three-and-a-half-year-old twins, requested a banana, Chani informed him that he had to wait until they turned yellow. For the next few mornings, Gavriel surmised that the bananas were “almost yellow.” He really wanted a banana, and when he was informed that they weren’t ready yet, he reassured himself that they would be ready shortly.
We don’t have much patience these days. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that we have a weakness called “now.” We want “peace now!” and “Mashiach now!” But G-d does not conform to our timetable. He has time and patience.
On an unholy level, Yankees fans are devastated to learn that just because you demand a “World Series now!” doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Even if the name of your GM is “Cash-man,” it seems money can’t buy a championship, after all. On a more serious note, we all want a vaccine now and an end to the pandemic now. But we have no choice but to wait and see what G-d has planned.
We need to learn to be patient, most significantly, with ourselves.
Part of our impulsive desire for immediacy includes with our own growth and dealing with our deficiencies. We want to master Shas, fix all of our midos, and smooth out all of our challenges tonight. And we want to get a good night’s sleep afterwards. Our generation’s prayer is “G-d grant me patience and give it to me now!”
In the epic struggle within ourselves between our soul and our base desires, mastery is not attained quickly. It’s a lifelong battle and struggle, and one must be poised and ready for the challenge.
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, the Yeshuos Moshe, quipped that only a person who doesn’t learn musar fancies himself a truly devout Jew. One who works on character development, however, recognizes his defects and is always trying to improve. The most dangerous predicament to be in is when one doesn’t realize the danger he is in. If a person doesn’t realize that he is infected, he will never take the medicine he needs to cure himself.
But beyond recognizing his disease, one must be patient in following the prescribed treatment and medicines.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, former First Lady Nancy Reagan created and championed the slogan “Just say no.” It was an advertising campaign that was part of the “war on drugs,” aimed at discouraging children from engaging in illegal recreational use or experimentation of drugs. There are varied opinions about the success or failure of the campaign.
In his wonderful book, Positive Vision, Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger posits that when it comes to our perpetual battle with our evil inclination, there are times when we feel weak and vulnerable. During such times, if we seek to “just say no,” our yeitzer ha’ra will convince us that we cannot squelch our desires forever, so we might as well give up now. In such circumstances, our internal response should be, “Just say not yet.” Even if we feel we cannot overcome the yeitzer ha’ra, we can delay.
While our ultimate goal is to overcome our inner voice, which tells us to do wrong, we may not always be successful in our efforts to vanquish it. However, if we maintain the struggle and “keep ourselves in the ring,” we have achieved a modicum of success.
The poignant words of President Theodore Roosevelt should serve as a chizuk for us in our personal struggles:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
These are great words to bear in kind constantly.
What does G-d want of us? That we strive valiantly, that even when we inevitably err, we do so daring greatly.
We need to have the patience to wait for the green bananas within us to turn yellow – but in the meanwhile, to maintain the epic struggle and to recognize our value and greatness in doing so. It is that feeling that will fuel us to continue the struggle and to continue striving valiantly.