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Parshas Beshalach

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 15:23,25).

   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.