Activism requires a very calculated and sensitive balance between patience and alacrity. On the one hand, one must have the patience for teaching and engaging the apathetic and the uninformed. On the other hand, one must also have the alacrity to respond to crises and injustices at the most crucial time. Most often the precise timing that necessitates immediate action precedes the completion of the essential education and mobilization of the public. This is one of the reasons why the uninformed segments of the public at times view the activist as radical. One must have the courage to act in the name of shalom and tzedek while maintaining patience and respect for more passive critics from one’s own constituency.
Rabbi Preida (Eruvin 54b) used to teach his student who was slow to learn the lesson 400 times in one day in order that he would properly learn. This savlanut (patience) is required for one who believes deeply enough in their convictions and also cares enough about his or her students and constituents joining to pursue justice for social change.
Pinchas (Bamidbar 25:8) and Moshe Rebbeinu (Shemot 2:12) serve as our quintessential Jewish models of kina (zealotry) and zrizut (alacrity). Moshe’s core identity and community were transformed by his courageous decision to protect the abused. The way that Avraham Avinu greeted his guests (Bereshit 18:2 ) teaches us that one must develop the emotional intelligence to be in touch with another’s needs to the point that one can respond to situations that demand immediate and urgent responses with care.
Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian writer, famously noted that “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” There is a time for savlanut and a time for zrizut. Acquiring the warrior traits to balance these traits requires self awareness, courage, partnership, and sensitivity. With experience and partnership may we develop this necessary balance to lead and create social change.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America!"