Rabbi David Sutton
The Hebrew letters ס.ב.ל. form the root of several terms. One is סבלנות, which we generally translate as patience. Another is the term סובל צרות, which refers to a person who is tolerant of pain; the word סובל, therefore, means to tolerate. Finally, a סַבָּל is a porter, one who carries burdens. So, we have three English concepts – patience, tolerance of pain, and carrying a load - all with the same Hebrew root. What is the connection?
Carrying the Load
Rav Shlomo Wolbe (Alei Shur v. II, p. 214) explains that one who exercises patience in his dealings with others essentially carries a load, as he moves on without growing weary of bearing that burden. For example, in dealing with friends, siblings, spouses, or coworkers, factors may not always be according to our taste or in accordance with our nature. Even worse, others may tease or taunt us, or approach us with an unjustified complaint. Yet, rather than reacting or exploding, we can be sovel their behavior, we can carry the load. Additionally, one who tolerates physical or emotional pain, which comes about through the forces of nature and not via another human being, is also holding a burden. He, too, continues to function despite being encumbered by hardship.
Alternatively, if we explode in anger or kvetch about every ache and pain to all and sundry, we are dropping the load, thereby demonstrating our inability to carry the load of that difficulty.
Psychological research demonstrates that individuals who can tolerate experiences of frustration or other “negative” emotions without an aggressive external reaction are rated considerably higher than others on a social/emotional level, and are more likely to succeed in their everyday relationships, as well as in their careers.
Conversely, the boss who is constantly yelling and haranguing does not get more out of his employees (he just thinks he does). Rather, he creates an environment of fear in which workers adapt to their superior’s diatribes by hiding their mistakes or declining to take on projects that incur a risk of failure. Many have bought into the myth, much ingrained in our society, that letting out anger and frustration through hitting a punching bag or screaming in the forest helps expel these emotions. Factually, research into human behavior shows that, in the long run, these actions foster an increase in the frequency of these emotions.
Of course, this does not mean we ignore our emotions. Indeed, we must recognize which feelings we are experiencing, including frustration, sadness, or disappointment, and allow those emotions to process in an adaptive and healthy way. This is achieved through expressing ourselves calmly, through acceptance, patience, tolerance, and awareness of our internal processes.
But there is more.
The Alter of Kelm (Chochmah U’Mussar, v. I, p. 433) states, “How wonderful would it be if we would train ourselves in the trait of sevel (tolerance, patience, bearing the burden)! This is the source of all positive character traits, the source of menuchah (serenity), and the source of all good qualities.”
In most cases, when we react in the wrong way, in actuality, we are reacting to an uncomfortable feeling that we cannot tolerate, causing us to drop the load. This can occur when another driver rudely cuts us off, when our child asks for still another drink at bedtime, when our spouse makes a thoughtless comment… It can be so difficult to carry that feeling that we may just fly into a rage. And at that moment, when we go ballistic, all our commendable character traits fly out the window, as we let loose on anyone and everyone unfortunate enough to be in our vicinity.
Hence, the middah of savlanut is at the source of all good middot.
In a letter to his son Rav Avraham, the Rambam discusses the downside of machloket, dispute. Rather than argue, he exhorts his son, “Pride yourself in tolerating; that is true strength and true victory!”
Rav Wolbe advises, “Set aside 15 minutes a day to just tolerate, to just hold. Be patient with whatever the situation is.” During that quarter of an hour, if something is not to your liking – or someone rankles you – don’t blow your top, but remain calm and composed.
This exercise should not be performed during a quiet, private time, but specifically during a busy time of day, a time of interaction with others: e.g., mealtime, bedtime, homework, carpool, a phone call with a family member…Once you have mastered tolerance during one type of interaction, you can move on to another one.
Each difficult interaction that is mastered constitutes true strength and victory!