Somewhere in the past blur of weeks, I contracted an eye infection. The cure for this infection is, ironically, stinging, burning drops I must put in every two hours. That’s not fun. Even worse, during this time, I have to wear my glasses, which give me headaches and make me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach.
In this case, the cure is almost worse than the illness, but it’s still the cure and so I dutifully watch the clock and every two hours I put the antibiotic drops in my eyes that will make me inhale sharply and cry. I then put my glasses back on and continue.
Often, that which heals us must first cause pain.
I’ve never had a spectacular immune system at the best of times, but when I’m stressed or doing too much, I get sick easily. I was a sickly child as well. Something I learned early is that the first step of healing often looks worse than the sickness. Infection must be drawn out and it’s a messy process. You have to first become sicker, breaking open, before you can let the sickness go and become well again.
I find this to be spiritually true, too.
We were studying the parshas, both this past week and for next week when my son remarked, “It seems like we have to do a lot of things just to make up for things our ancestors did.” He was referring to the idea that the requirement of praying with a minyan comes from the 10 spies who gave false reports when they went to check out the land of Israel. There are multiple instances in Torah of people making mistakes that impacted the way future generations would have to do things. The firstborn lost the privilege of serving in the temple when they worshipped the golden calf, instead giving it to the Levites. The whole of Israel lost the privilege of direct prophecy from Hashem when they begged Moshe to intercede on their behalf in fear. Time after time, it’s like the story splits based on a mistake or choice made by the people in the Torah, leaving us to always wonder what might have been for us today if that lost path was still open to us.
It reminds me of a “choose your own adventure book.” When I was a child they had these books that were wonderfully interactive and that our teachers would never let us use for book reports. Depending on which choice you made, you turned to a different page later in the book and the story took a different turn. There, though, if you were bored, you could always turn back and follow the path of the choice you didn’t make to see where it would have led.
We’ll never really know what might have happened if none of the spies had lied. They did lie and history took a different turn.
I looked at my son and wondered aloud, “What if, instead of it only being a punishment, the actions of the spies somehow showed to Hashem that men needed to pray in a minyan?” What if each “mistake” was really just us showing Hashem where we were sick and needed healing, a part of the great process of Him deciding what treatment would best cure us? What if the ten spies lies revealed a sickness or weakness within men that called for a bitter medicine? I’m sure justice originally played a part in each branching of the story of the Jewish people, but to me, it’s comforting to think that the reason we were continued down that branch of the path for future generations is for our own best good, because those choices revealed a need in us for that path.
It’s almost time to do my eye drops again and I think of all the reasons why it could be that my eyes are so sore. Is it that I need to slow down and look deeper at the world around me? Or, is it that I just needed some help to let some healing tears out? What have my eyes been seeing that I haven’t quite been believing, similar to the spies seeing all the goodness of the fruits of Israel, but not believing that they could really inhabit that land. The spies were blinded by fear. What am I being blind to, I wonder? I know that there are reasons for everything else that happens, each time the story seems to branch off in a direction I didn’t quite expect, it’s all for our good.
I believe Hashem knows the medicine each of His children needs, even if the process of healing us is a messy and painful one at times. Life breaks us open, again and again, to grow from what we once were into what we are meant to be only to break open again with each new season’s challenges. I think the challenge is to find the joy in the process itself, so that when the inevitable sting of the medicine comes we can recognize it for what it is, the beginning of real healing as we grow closer to the purpose we were created for.
But for now, it’s enough just to take off my glasses and put in the eye drops again. I’m still healing and still growing.