So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah for they were bitter, therefore, its name was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, which he threw into the waters and made the waters sweet. There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he tested them, and said, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that heals you.” (Exodus 15:22-26)
When I first read this portion, what spoke to me was the whining. The Israelites have just seen a miracle–the parting of the Red Seas, escape from Egypt, and they are whining again. “Oh, the water is too bitter to drink.” It reminded me of what happens after a wedding.
You go to a wedding, have an amazing time, but in the car on the way home the whining starts. “Don’t you think the caterer could have passed the appetizers for more time? Did you see how she was dressed? Did you see how much he drank?” It seems we never bask in the glow of a miracle or blessed event for long, before we are back to complaining.
But there had to be more. I put out a call for help on my blog and was given this nugget from Frume Sarah–a reform Rabbi in California.
“An interesting thing to note. In the Mechilta, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha teaches that the placing of wood into the water in order to sweeten it acts as an example of self-realization. By adding bitter wood to the bitter water, the water realizes how bad it is to be bitter and becomes sweet of its own accord.”
Ah, interesting. I was also pointed to Rashi by another friend and learned that at the camp at Marah, the Israelites were given Shabbat. Things started to come together for me. What if we use the lesson of self-realization with the time Shabbat allows us for reflection.
What are things we can do to take the edge off of bitterness through shabbat or other actions?
(Now, on Saturday morning, I had people chime in. Mostly folks who heard the sermon the night before and knew I’d be asking for feedback.)
Of course I made a list of things I think you can do, to keep from becoming bitter or to take the edge off of life a bit.
- Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude. Go beyond saying thank you, but try to notice all the blessings around you when you would normally go into a mental place of complaining. For example, when you are in line at the grocery store, try thinking, “Isn’t it great that I can afford this food. This meal will be wonderful. Ah, the story can employ all these people. Look at those laughing children. Oooh, chocolate.”
- Find a shabbat ritual. While it might not be a traditional ritual, find something that makes shabbat special. For me it is walking on the beach with a cup of coffee, for others it might be a saturday afternoon movie, a friday night meal, turning off the phone or making phone calls. Find something that makes it special and do it every shabbat.
- Carry a camera for 30 days and take one photo a day of somehting that it beautiful to you, that makes you laugh, that is striking. You will force yourself to be more aware of the beauty in every day living and have a collection of these things at the end of a month.
- Creme brulee or apple pie. So often we have dessert at the end of meal when we are so stuffed, we can’t really enjoy it. But why not go out just for dessert. Take the sweetness out of context and it becomes even richer.
- Commit to blessing one certain thing for a week. Perhaps every time you eat bread, see your favorite color, see a couple holding hands, hear a child laughing… say a blessing on that one thing. You’ll be on the look-out for it and making blessings all week. If a blessing doesn’t exist or you don’t know it, take Rabbi Aaron’s advice and say, “Baruch atah Adonai, elohaynu melech ha’olam, WOW!” It’s a good substitution.
- Tzedakah. Make sure that you are meeting this mitzva, as it is better to give than to receive and the regular act of giving tzedakah will help you grow into a less bitter person.
- Listen to a story. We all know how great it is to have someone listen to us, so make sure to listen to someone else tell a story.
So that’s my list of things to try. I’ll leave you with a quote from Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Love much. Earth has enough of bitter in it.“