Today is Rosh Chodesh, the start of a new month. The new month right now is Iyar, also known as Ziv. Ziv means two things: it means radiation (because the sun’s radiation is switched “on” now with the start of spring). and Ziv also means a blossom, because everything is blossoming this time of year.
When the Jews left Mitzryaim [Egypt] way back when, shortly thereafter was Rosh Chodesh Iyar. At that time they arrived at a place called Marah, where the waters were bitter. Every sip of life-giving water had a brackish bitterness that made it impossible to drink. G-d told Moshe to throw in a “branch” which then sweetened the water, turning the undrinkable water into delicious fare. There, at the location of Mara, the Jews also got the laws of Shabbos, of Parah Aduma and some other of Judaic law.
Basically they were taught on that first Rosh Chodesh Iyar that Torah makes life sweeter (how does a stick show us it was Torah sweetening the water – we say “Eitz Chayim Hee” when we take out the sefer Torah – proclaiming Torah as the branch of life).
When the Torah tells us the narrative of the bitter waters, it says something a bit off. It says the water was undrinkable because “they” were bitter. Water is not a they, it should have been an it. Since Torah is not a history book, but rather a source of lessons to character development, we have to ask why the Torah wrote this story in this manner. Why the wording saying “they” were bitter. We are being taught something profound here. The reason the Jews found the water bitter was because of bitterness inside of themselves. The folks, the masses, they were bitter, and because of that bitterness, everything they tasted, even life-giving water, tasted bitter as bile.
Bitter and Sweet are perceptions and come from attitudes – if you have a bitter attitude, everything you taste becomes bitter. The Baal Shem Tov once wanted to show this to his students, so he took them on a walk and met up with the poor water carrier. He asked the water carrier, “Nu, how’s life?” The water carrier replied with a wide smile, “Ah, wonderful! Everyone should be so lucky as me, to work outside and not have to be cooped up into a building. To be able to meet everyone in town and help them by giving them water. To be able to stay strong by carrying these heavy buckets of water. Ah, what a great life!” A few days later the Baal Shem Tov took his students out again and met the same water carrier and asked him, “Nu, so how’s life?” The water carrier moaned, “Oy vey, why was I cursed with this life? To always have to work outside! To have to meet every kvetchy person in town and have to be a slave to the whole town by bringing them water. And, oy vey, my back, why do I have to shlep such heavy buckets?” The Baal Shem Tov turned to his students and asked, “What changed in this man’s life? Nothing. His life is just harder, more bitter, or easier and more sweet based on attitude alone.”
Have you ever seen the anon wisdom of, “If you complain about washing dishes, remember there are folks who have no dishes and no food to serve on them. If you complain about having to do laundry, thank G-d you have clothing.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera as the King of Siam once said. Attitude is everything!!!
Color your perspective with sweetness and all will be sweet. And the surest way to do that is to delve into Torah study, where we learn how to become a more complete person.