Soon after coming to work for Lavan, Jacob agreed to work for seven years in exchange for Rachel's hand in marriage. The Torah tells us that this period passed very quickly for Jacob. "And Jacob worked seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him a few days because of his love for her."(1)
Many commentaries point out an obvious difficulty. Usually, when a person is eagerly awaiting a specific event, the time in between seems to move very slowly. However, in this case, the Torah states that the seven years of waiting to marry Rachel seemed like a few days. How can this be?
In order to answer this question, it is first necessary to understand why, normally, the waiting period does seem to be painfully slow. In most cases, the person is anxiously waiting for a specific event to take place - he views the time in between as a mere impediment to the object of his desires. It is well known that when something is unpleasant or painful, it seems to last a long time. Thus, a person for whom the waiting period is an obstacle, views it as something unpleasant, therefore he feels that it takes a long time to pass by.
However, Jacob had a very different approach to the seven year waiting period for Rachel. His love for Rachel was not based on lust, rather a deep sense of love, whereby he recognized her greatness, and wanted to be as good a husband as possible. He understood that the time that stood in between his marriage to Rachel was not an obstacle, rather it constituted a great opportunity to improve himself. Therefore he viewed each moment as a priceless opportunity to further prepare himself for marriage. With such an attitude, the time itself was not viewed with a negative attitude; rather Jacob saw it in a very positive manner as an opportunity to ready himself for marriage. Since he valued this time, he did not see it as something painful, rather he actually appreciated it. And just as we know that unpleasant situations move slowly, we also know that enjoyable circumstances move very quickly. Therefore, the seven years seemed like a few short days.(2)
There is another famous incident in the Torah where the Jewish people seemed to have stumbled in this very area. In the Torah Poriton of Ki Sisa, after having received the Ten Commandments, Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai where he learnt the entire Torah and received the Tablets that he would bring down to the people. However, the people miscalculated when the 40 days should end and expected Moses to come down earlier than he said he would. The Rabbinical sources tell us that the Satan showed them that Moses was dead. This began the chain of events that resulted in the Sin of the Golden Calf. The question is asked, that it seems unfair that the people should be subject to such a difficult test of seeing a vision of their beloved leader, Moses, no longer alive. Why did they have to be subjected to such a test?
The answer is that the Satan could only have the power to affect the people when they showed a lacking in a certain area. The yetzer hara (3) only has power when there is a weakness in a person; in such a case he can then expose that weakness. In the case of the build-up to the Golden Calf, it seems that the peoples' failing was in their impatience for Moshe to return and give them the Torah. This impatience led them to begin to panic when Moses did not return at the time that they expected. Consequently, the Satan now had an opening which he could exploit.
Thus, we see that the root weakness that began the course of events that led to the Golden Calf was the incorrect approach to the period of Moses being on Mount Sinai. The people's attitude was that of anxiously waiting for the time to pass, so that they could move on to the next stage in their acceptance of the Torah. They should have viewed that time in the same way as Yaakov used his time waiting to marry Rachel; as an opportunity to work on themselves so that they would be more ready to receive the Tablets. Had they had such an attitude, they would have been less focused on the end of the waiting period, and more focused on utilizing it as much as possible.(4)
We have seen examples in the Torah of the correct and incorrect ways to approach waiting for specific events. It is obvious that the challenge of dealing with waiting periods is one that people constantly face. It may be in the areas of waiting for major events to take place, such as someone dating, eagerly awaiting the time when they find their spouse. Or it may be in daily occurrences such as traffic jams, or frustratingly long lines in the supermarket. Whatever the length of, and reason for, the wait, the underlying principle is the same - that one should not look at these occurrences as mere nuisances that prevent a person from attaining his goal. Rather, one should realize, everything is from God, including annoying or painful periods of waiting. One must make the decision to avoid wasting such time periods, or, even worse, getting frustrated and angry; instead he should recognize that they are G-d given opportunities to grow closer to God. Thus, a person who is waiting to find the right match should realize that this time period in his life, is not merely a time when life stops until he finds his match. Rather, this is a precious time, when he can work on his character traits to prepare for his future marriage. And, when one finds himself in a line, he could use such time to learn Torah, or for other necessary purposes.
We learn from Jacob's attitude during the long seven year wait for Rachel, that waiting periods are opportunities for growth, not burdens to overcome. May we all merit to use such time in the optimum fashion.
1. Vayeitsei, 29:20.
2. This explanation is based on a number of commentaries (see Taam V'Daas, Vayeitsei, 29:10, also a similar approach was heard from Rav Da-vid Rosenthal in the name of Rav Shimshon Pinkus), but is different in some aspects. Also see Re'em, Malbim and Maharil Diskin on this verse, for alternative answers to this question.
3.Which is synonymous with the Satan.
4. This explanation is based on the teachings of Rav Efraim Kramer. As ever, it should be noted that the failings of great people, such as the Generation that received the Torah, are greatly magnified by the Torah so that we can relate to them on our level and derive appropriate lessons.