They came to Marah and
could not drink of the waters of Marah for they were bitter... and he [Moses]
cried unto G-d, and G-d instructed him regarding a tree which he cast into the
waters, and the waters became sweet (Exodus
The Baal Shem Tov interprets the first verse with the
pronoun "they" referring to the Israelites rather than the waters. The verse
now reads, "They could not drink the waters of Marah because they, the
Israelites, were bitter." In psychiatric practice this is frequently
encountered. A person who is depressed may complain that everything he eats has
a bitter taste. In these instances the bitterness is not in the food, but in
one's taste perception.
This is even more common in one's attitude and
interpretation of happenings in life than with taste. There are indeed some
unfortunate occurrences in life that are objectively bitter. But there are many
times when we judge things to be bitter when they are not so in reality, and it
is only because of a distorted perception that we consider them bitter. Such
misperceptions may often be corrected if we perceive our experiences through
the perspective of Torah philosophy rather than through that of prevailing
cultural attitudes and values.
The Torah is an eitz chayim (a tree of
life), of which it is said that those who support Torah will achieve happiness
(Proverbs 3:18). Many things in life may be unpleasant, but our reaction
and adjustment to them can vary, and we may be able to accept adversity with
serenity. With the guidance of Torah, much bitterness can be averted. G-d
showed Moses the tree, the eitz chayim of Torah, through whose
perspective the bitter waters can be sweetened.
Excerpt from Living Each Week, by
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D.