Out-Marrored! In Honor Of Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer And My Esteemed Yedidim Who Joined Together To Inspire The Community For Pesach! [Watch Here]

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 03/18/21

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
(410) 788-6633

There are four basic tastes in the foods we consume — sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. 

In the offerings that are placed on the Mizbeach, the Altar, two tastes are precluded from being present.  

...you may not burn anything fermented or sweet as a fire offering to G-d (Vayikra 2 11) 

The Holy Kotzker would translate this injunction as a directive for life as an Oved Hashem:  

Nisht tzu poyar und nisht tzu heimish — not too coarse nor too chummy, or alternately, nisht tzu zoyar und nisht tzu zees — not too sour nor too sweet. 

Finding the perfect balance between reverence and love in our relationship with G-d, and never becoming soured in our devotion nor overly confident, are just some of the goals intimated in this pithy guidance for life. 

Salt though, plays a prominent role in the bringing of sacrifices not only representing ‘suffering’ as purposeful in cleansing ourselves from sin, but perhaps more importantly in its message that when viewed properly it brings out the robust flavor inherent in our souls. 

What about bitterness, is there a place for that in our avodas Hashem

There was another ingredient that accompanies most meal-offerings and was one of the ingredients in the Ketores — Incense: the Levonah, Frankincense. 

This item was placed upon the Mincha and its salt, and burned together upon the Altar, adding an exquisite scent.  

It is alleged to possess a bitter taste. Could bitterness be a positive attitude one would implement in life? 

On Pesach we eat the Marror, a bitter herb, recalling the verse that describes how “they embittered their lives with hard labor...” 

Have you ever wondered why we commemorate the ‘bitterness’ by eating something bitter? Would it not be more effective if we walked outside in the mud barefoot, on a bed of pointy straw allowing it to bloody the bare soles of our feet, as the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer so depicts the harrowing details of the painful brick making in Egypt? 

The Midrash informs that although the Jews were initially destined to be enslaved for 400 years the actual time served was reduced to 210 years. This was attributed to the intensification of the slavery within a shorter span, that equaled the originally intended suffering that was to be spread with less harshness over the longer era.  

The period of cruel decrees that were divinely initiated to serve to speed the process of redemption was presaged when the Torah describes, they embittered their lives. From this point until the exodus was 86 years long. This number corresponds to the age of Miriam at the time of liberation. Indeed, the commentaries point out that she was so named precisely because she was born at the onset of the most ‘bitter’ phase, thus she was called יםמר, emphasizing the 'מר', the bitter and difficult epoch. 

It seems strange that a parent would name their child commemorating pain rather than hope!  

What legacy could be in store for a child with so harsh of a name and all its bleak implications? 

מר, more accurately means to ‘oppose’ as in the word 'מרי', rebellion. When we succumb to our fears and lose hope because of all the challenges that ‘oppose’ us, we are destined to becoming embittered with dejection and despair. If we however ‘resist’ the inclination to give up, we have hope of discovering the sweetness of life and all its prospects. 

Miriam was so named to stave off the bitterness that prevailed at the time of her birth. She possessed the positiveness needed to fight off the temptation to surrender to misery. 

In fact, she lived up to her name.  

When Amram saw that Pharaoh decreed all boys should be cast into the water and realized the futility in raising children he promptly divorced his wife. The rest of the Jews followed suit and did likewise. Miriam confronted her father with three arguments: Your decree is worse than Pharaohs’! He only decreed against the boys; you will cause that also girls will not be born! Pharaohs’ decree is only in this world, your decree also affects the world to come! It is uncertain whether Pharaohs's decree would be fulfilled, but you are a Tzaddik, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled. 

Miriam was all of five years old, yet she boldly ‘opposes’ her father. Surprisingly, he listens and responds, remarrying his wife Yocheved, with Miriam singing and dancing joyously before them. 

So often we get caught up with chesbonos — calculations of the ‘big picture’ that impede and cloud our clarity of vision. Miriam with her youthful and pure exuberance, her hope and innocence, sees the opportunity in the moment. The raising of the daughters, the joy of a boy being born — even if it short lived, affording it a share in the world to come, and the anticipation of possible better times, was a reality even Amram did not perceive readily. 

One can adapt a ‘bitter’ attitude towards life and all its travails, or one can select to seek the sweetness that is always there. One can drown in worry or regale in the opportunities at hand. No one ever knows the length of time one will be dispensed on this earth. Every moment is laden with prospects to grasp eternity. 

Many herbs that are naturally bitter are poisonous. But many despite their oppositional taste possess miraculous curative qualities. Evidently this ‘bitter’ taste is not embedded in these plants to refrain from ingesting them, but rather to pay attention and channel it for our betterment.  

It has been observed that although one might have thought that bitterness of taste would be intolerable, humans have the genetic capacity to adapt to its taste and enjoy it. I will drink a beer in testament to that! The bitterness in bittersweet chocolate is attributed to the precious antioxidants that contribute towards our healthy hearts. 

We all have warm memories of Seders past.  

The image of my grandparents sitting with faces of indescribable contentment are forever etched in my mind. One grandfather lost children in the Holocaust, the other lost a wife, son and daughter to illness, enduring poverty during the great depression, and raising the rest of his children alone. Yet, they never became embittered, always moving forward in life rejoicing in the blessings they had. 

Of course, there was Uncle Abe, the coolest man on earth. He smoked Camels without a filter, drove a Pontiac convertible, with his thin moustache and fedora he was a spittin’ image of Clark Gable, and belted out zemiros as if he was Caruso.  

When it came to eating Marror, he out-marrored us all. He would turn colors and gasp as we calmly waited for him to recover as we knew our hero always would. 

He was man who worked hard for a living, never becoming rich despite his greatest efforts, losing his only son to cancer, but never lost his verve for life. He understood the secret quality of Marror, the special quality our nation possesses to oppose all bitterness, in the spirit of Miriam, and sing and dance with joy over our lot. 

It is in our DNA. We must simply access it. 

It has been quite a year. But we are still standing proud. We have so much to celebrate. 

May we ward off bitterness in our lives and merit to taste the sweetness of life every moment of our existence! 


צבי יהודה טייכמאן