Bittersweet – Parshas Beshalach

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Life is full of bittersweet moments.

A daughter‘s marriage brings with it wistful memories of your little girl, now all grown up and ready to start a life of her own.

Having a grandchild named after a deceased ancestor brings an aching longing for the one who is gone, but also the priceless joy of watching the strong bond and continuity of generations.

Graduating high school or college brings home the reality that the comfort zone of familiar faces and places is coming to an end, while opening up new horizons, the hopes and dreams of an unknown future.

In this week’s Torah portion the Jewish people begin their journey in the desert and come to a place called “Mara,” which is the Hebrew word for “bitter.” Mara has water, but, as its name indicates, the water is so bitter that it is undrinkable. The Jews complain, and G-d shows them a stick, which is as bitter as the water itself. This bitter stick is thrown into the bitter water and the water miraculously becomes sweet and drinkable.

The verse in the Torah that speaks of the miraculous sweetening of the water ends off by saying that there, in Mara, G-d established laws and ordinances.

Although “laws” may refer to the establishment of the initial commandments of the Torah, and “ordinances” may mean laws that maintain the social order, it seems to me that something else is going on here as well. As the Jewish people begin their march towards nationhood, G-d is teaching them a deep lesson about the law and order of the universe.

The bee has its sting, but also brings us honey; the most beautiful roses are frequently surrounded by thorns.

Such is the nature of life. We are frequently faced with situations that are bitter and difficult, made worse by the fact that facing up to these situations potentially brings more unpleasantness to the fore.

The choice is ours. We can react as the Jews did initially, and gripe and complain, but the reality is that this just allows the bitterness to remain.

Alternatively, we can learn the lesson of Mara. If we accept the bitterness with maturity, responsibility, and faith, the very bitterness itself can ultimately bring us to priceless and precious moments, moments filled with sweetness and joy.

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Rabbi Yitzi Oratz is originally from Brooklyn, NY, where he attended Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Flatbush and then spent a year in Jerusalem studying at the Brisk Yeshiva of Rabbi Dovid Soleveitchik. Upon his return to the USA he studied at Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey where received his Rabbinic ordination and earned a Masters in Talmudic Studies. Currently Director of Monmouth Torah Links, Rabbi Oratz and his wife Toby live in Marlboro where they are proud to raise their children as part of the MTL community.

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