Life is full of bittersweet moments.
A daughter‘s marriage brings nostalgic memories of your little girl, now all grown up and ready to start a life of her own.
Having a grandchild named for a deceased relative brings an aching longing for the one who is gone but also the priceless joy of experiencing the enduring continuity of generations.
Graduating high school or college drives home the reality that one will soon be leaving the comfort zone of familiar faces and places. It also opens up new horizons, harboring 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, it is so bitter that it is undrinkable. The Jews complain about the lack of drinkable water, 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 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, something else is going on here as well. As the Jewish people begin their march towards nationhood, G-d is teaching them a profound lesson about the law and order of the universe.
The bee has its sting but also brings honey; thorns often surround the most beautiful roses.
Such is the nature of life. We frequently face painful and difficult situations, made worse by the fact that dealing with these situations can bring more unpleasantness to the fore.
We can react as the Jews did initially and gripe and complain, but the reality is that this will not remove the bitterness.
Alternatively, we can learn the lesson of Mara. If we accept the bitter times in life with maturity, responsibility, and faith, the bitterness itself can ultimately bring us priceless and precious moments filled with sweetness and joy.
The choice is ours.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.