Bitter Water

Shalom Aleichem!
Today is a very special day on the Jewish calendar. The 10th of Shevat marks the 62nd yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson, as well as the day a year later, that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson formally became his successor and leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The Queens branch of Chabad On Campus is one of over 3500 Chabad centers across the globe.
Earlier this week, I was watching a DVD of a Farbrengen with the Rebbe that took place on this auspicious day in 1972. In his impassioned Yiddish, the Rebbe addressed a crucial topic: How can I hope to affect and transform the world, which sometimes appears to be a jungle in steady decline?
The answer? Perspective. It’s all about perspective.
My humble attempt to paraphrase the message of the Rebbe: Jews have always been a minority, and when we look at the world, we may conclude that the world is a jungle. If we mistakenly view the world only through our physical eyes, we may, indeed, conclude that good doesn’t prevail and that the general state of affairs are getting progressively worse.
Things may seem bleak, but they aren’t. The world, said the Rebbe, is a garden. Not a field producing quick-growing wheat, but a garden with trees that require much care and are slow to produce fruit. However, if you have to work hard for something, it’s a sign that the object you are working for is more valuable than something which comes through less effort.
While it indeed entails great effort to produce fruit in the garden, the results are oh-so-sweet.
Yet how are we to remain upbeat while attempting the daunting task of effecting meaningful change in the world?
Things are not as bad as they may seem. “Shift your perspective,” the Rebbe tells us, “and proceed with confidence, knowing that we will surely succeed.” Attempt to discover the beautiful fruits within the garden that is our world. There is no question that they are there, they just require effort to find.
To connect this to our weekly Torah portion: In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), we read of the Exodus from Egypt. After the miraculous splitting of the sea, the Jews arrive at the Marah stream. The Torah recounts that, “They could not drink water at Marah for the water was bitter” (ibid. 15:23).
Yet when one examines the original Hebrew, we see that a more exact translation would read, “…for they were bitter.” Who is the “they” spoken of? Contextually it obviously refers to the water, however, perhaps we can suggest that the “they” alludes to the Jewish people themselves. The reason why the water was bitter was because the Jewish people themselves were bitter. If one is bitter, everything one tastes will be bitter.
Let’s do our best to stay positive and not get distracted from viewing our world as the beautiful garden that it is! Shifting our perspective is the first step in changing the world for the good.