Some truths are smooth and silky and slide past the ears or tongue like satiny chocolate, the really good expensive stuff, or like the most expensive aged liquor. These truths are easy for me to devour, but like those decadent treats, they aren’t the truths that feed me, that nourish me, or that help me grow.
The truths that most feed me in the long run are the ones that are bitter, the ones that take effort to swallow.
I confront them with an uneasy, uncomfortable aversion. I know that they will be good for me, that they will lead to greater health. Logically, I know my initial reaction to them isn’t going to last once I manage to cut them up into pieces that are manageable and dutifully swallow them. Once I acquire the taste, I may even come to enjoy them. I know I’ll enjoy the effect of having digested them. There is depth to these truths that the ones I can easily swallow lack. They are as medicinal as any bad tasting cough syrup and often the worse they taste, the more I need them.
Judaism is at times a harsh religion of truths. The laws do not shy away from uncomfortable subjects and it’s often not a religion that makes much effort to make you feel good about yourself. Laws are sometimes presented without much attempt to soften an emotional impact. Court rulings are given despite compassion.
Yet, over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes this is a hidden kindness. People are given the ability to make choices based on information, even where that information may not be what they want to hear. Judaism is a religion that believes more of us at times than we believe of ourselves. The Torah believes we are up to the challenge of bitter truths and serves them to us like a mother who won’t let us choose a different meal. We’ll eat what’s served rather than be allowed to opt for something softer or sweeter that’s off the menu. What kindness is it really to water down our medicine simply to make it more tolerable rather than help us learn the strength to take it as it is?
All around me, I see examples of us as human beings asking the world around us to change to accommodate us. We don’t want to be made uncomfortable, so we ask for a more relaxed dress code. We don’t want to be confronted with information that challenges our beliefs so we block it out. We don’t want to be burdened, so we look for convenience. We’ve come to believe that this is how happiness is found, by removing all discomfort we can from our lives and making things “easier” and more “convenient.” We lower our expectations of ourselves and believe we aren’t capable of more.
Torah says otherwise. It says that even if a mitzvah is hard, we can do it, that we are up to the challenge. In fact, it says the reward is even greater when it is hard.
Many of the matriarchs struggled with infertility. It’s said the reason they did was because they were on such a high spiritual level, something was needed for them to struggle with, to bring them to a place of crying out to G-d. For Sarah and Rachel, it was childlessness that brought them to their tears and a place of acknowledging a helplessness that needed G-d. While it can be easy to praise G-d in good times, it’s the struggles that often bring me to a place of trust. I realize when something is hard that I am not in control and I need to ask for help. I learn from this. I learn humility. I learn to let go of trying to force things and to instead open up and trust. I learn to soften in the face of my fears rather than armor up because my armor is brittle. It’s in my softness and tears that I find the help I need.
I no longer shy away from bitter truths. I may still not fully appreciate their taste, but I appreciate the healing they bring. Now, when I feel that resistance to something I’m told to do, that knee-jerk reaction of “Eww…um no,” I recognize it for what it is. G-d is serving me a plate of greens that I need and I’m wrinkling my nose like a child. I let that reaction pass, then I thank him for giving me what I need and I pick up a knife and fork to begin my part of the work, slowly cutting that truth into pieces I can swallow and digest.