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THE ART OF LEARNING LESSONS
The most important of all the lessons of history, is that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history. Covid, as well, has a lesson for everyone. According to YouGov, a research and data analytics firm, only 8 percent of Brits of England want to go back to life as it was before the pandemic. According to The Economist, Covid forced a home-working experiment that is likely to change work life forever, to some virtual/live hybrid model that is more time effective and cost efficient.
The purpose of יסורים, of pain and suffering, is at the root of the word. סור which means remove, Mussar, etc. There are other Hebrew words that can be used, like כאב, סבל, צערbut our Rabbis use, specifically, the word Yissurim, because if you do not remove something, some habit or some behavior, then the whole purpose of the suffering is defeated. As we learn in Berachot 5b, that if a person does not “appreciate” the pain and suffering he/she goes through, if a person does not learn something from it, it has no value.
This is the lesson of Passover. The Marror on the Seder plate is to be positioned in the place of the Sefirah of Tifferet, which represents G-d’s mercy. What? How could Marror, bitterness, be mercy? The answer is hidden in the custom that we eat Romaine lettuce, which is חסא, which refers to the mercy that G-d had upon us. Because the Sefirah of Tifferet is truth, long term. Goodness, long term. To have long term goodness, long term truth, one needs, sometimes, to go through bitter times and accept the things that are difficult to accept. Because, as Judasim teaches, the only path to long-term pleasure is, almost always, through short term pain.
This is the reason why, if a person does not have Matzah on Pesach, only Marror, there is no mitzvah of having Marror alone. (Rambam K. Pesach 8;2, Sefer Hamitzvot Mitzvah Aseh 56) According to most opinions, eating Marror is not counted as one of the 613 Mitzvoth, on its own, because it is part of the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Why is that so?
The Mitzvah of Matzah is to remember the hasty Redemption, when there was not enough time for the dough to rise. The Mitzvah of Marror is to remember the bitterness the Egyptians put our ancestors through. And the Mitzvah of the Pesach sacrifice is to remember the disconnect from the Egytian god and the recommitment with serving our Creator, and how G-d skipped over the doors of the undeserving Jews and punished only the Egyptians. If a person does not have Matzah, just Marror, then there is no Mitzvah in eating it, as there is no purpose in remembering only the bitterness. If, together with the bitterness, you are not reminded of G-d’s strength, if you do not rekindle your connection with Him – it’s pointless. The Passuk teaches us this concept, as well. בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה יְקֹוָק֙ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: Because of this, for the sake of the Mitzvah of Matzah and Marror for all generations, G-d took me out of Egypt. (See Rashi Shemot 13;8) It is not that we eat Matzah and Marror because we went through Exile and Exodus. Quite the contrary. We went through Exile and Exodus, because G-d wants us to have this Mitzvah of Matzah and Marror. What? How does that make any sense? What is the purpose in of itself of eating Matzah and Marror?
Eating Matzah and Marror is a reminder of this timeless lesson, that all the pain and suffering we go through has a purpose, a lesson to be learnt, a way of life that can be altered, a perspective that can transcend with a paradigm shift. This is the element our Rabbis refer to asמתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח behind the Hagaddah story, beginning with difficulty and ending with praise. If, at the end, you can’t express praise for the difficulty, you have missed the whole purpose.
The lessons learnt from self-reflection in the moments of difficulty are the building blocks of the story of our identity. Only these experiences spearhead lasting change. The interventions from Above to what we thought was “normal” challenge us to rethink our values, which ripple-effect through our thoughts and actions. It forces us to ask ourselves what’s most important in life, and what we stand for. It helps us learn which values we can drop, and the values that do not help us get to where we really want to end up.
The first Mitzvah taught at Har Sinai, was how to treat slaves. Because that was a major lesson learnt from the experience of slavery in Egypt, of pain, of degradation, so that we can have empathy for those who are dependent and reliant on us. This lesson is fundamental in the whole Torah, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”
But, some people live their life not listening to their messages. Some people never learn, never pay attention, never take insight. This was the lesson of the Plagues, and why each one was given in a measure for measure format. Of course, G-d could have just struck the whole of Egypt with one big lightening flash, and called it a day. But G-d allowed the back-and-forth with Pharaoh, his Egyptian nation and the Jewish people, to teach us this lesson of what happens when people do not learn the lessons. When G-d warns that all animals that are left outdoors will die in the Plague of Pestilence, only those who “feared G-d” listened. And those who did not fear G-d, and ignored His word, who left their animals outdoors, lost them to the Plague. What? This is called “G-d fearing”? You have to be a fool to not listen to Moshe’s warning, after the first four Plagues! But this is what G-d-fearing means, at its core. It means not ignoring G-d’s messages. From all the things that were bad about Amalek, the epitome of Amalek’s wickedness was וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹקים And he is not G-d fearing. )Devarim 25;18) What? Amalek has plenty of things to work on before expecting from them fear of G-d. Because G-d-fearing means not ignoring the messages of G-d. And the core of all Amalek’s wickedness was ignoring the strength of G-d in the Exodus.
Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored, and G-d does not cease to exist because He is ignored. Ignoring G-d’s messages has a hefty price tag. If a person ignores G-d’s message, לֹא־יֹאבֶ֣ה יְקֹוָק֘ סְלֹ֣חַֽ לוֹ֒ G-d won’t want to forgive the person, ever. (Devarim 29; 19) G-d’s message in the Exodus was בַּעֲב֣וּר תֵּדַ֔ע כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין כָּמֹ֖נִי בְּכָל־הָאָֽרֶץSo that you will know that there is none like Me in all the land. That there exists no being like G-d – that was the lesson of the first three Plagues, דצ”ך. No other being or entity is aware of the world and involved in it as G-d is; this is the lesson of the next three עד”ש Plagues. There is no being, no entity with the infinite strength and power that G-d has. That is the message of the Plagues of באח”ב. (See Kley Yakar)
The world is still scratching its head trying to figure out how the invisible enemy that brought the world to its knees was created. But that, sometimes, is not as important as the lessons that we can learn from this whole mess. If we can learn just some of the lessons that are being sent from Above during Covid, we can change our lives!
Selfie steps for learning life lessons
- All humans make mistakes. Not all humans learn from them. To learn lessons from your mistakes, you need to look past your shame, past your failures, ignore feelings of regret… all of which are temporary, while lessons are hopefully permanent. Nothing can empower you for your future like the lessons learnt from the mistakes of your past. Unfortunately, some of the best lessons of life can only be taught to us the hard way.
- The experiences, the people, the adversities, the challenges of your life, are all there to teach you lessons. Nothing was put into your life randomly.
- Never fail to learn lessons in life from the most unordinary places. Oftentimes, G-d packages lessons in the most ridiculous, unexpected, annoying, packages.