Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | March 10, 2015

Swallowing the Bitter Pill

Swallowing the Bitter Pill

Swallowing the Bitter Pill

Those of us who are able to swallow medicines with ease may sometimes find it amusing how others who are not so blessed deal with their problem. I know that when I was younger I would laugh when my mother would try to swallow pills. First, she tried with a sip of water. No dice.

Then more sips and some encouraging waving, as if directing the pills down her throat telepathically.  While that worked sometimes, other times found her bargaining and threatening them. “Come on you little buggers, go down. Come on, you can do it. Let’s go, now!”

As a last resort came applesauce, as if her throat wouldn’t know what her brains and eyes helped her hands to do in putting the pill on the spoon, and will swallow it when it’s camouflaged. Looking back, I realize that it’s no laughing matter. I feel bad for people who experience such difficulty, and so should we all.

Now, while many of us may not be able to relate to that difficulty in specific, I think we can relate to having a hard time swallowing other bitter things.

Recently, I was at a simcha when an unfortunate fellow had an outbreak of Tourette’s syndrome. He was flushed and began angrily spouting obscenities while flailing his arms wildly. As it turns out, he was not suffering from Tourette’s, but was rather discussing a certain person for whom he had a dislike. I must tell you that though I tried to calm him down, it only served to make him angrier when I asked him not to use such violent and vulgar language, let alone about another Jew.

Someone else I know can tell you how he was wronged by a certain individual (and it’s not so clear that he was wronged at all) going back half a dozen years. When he retells the story, you can see him getting visibly agitated.

I even know someone who won’t speak to his own cousin because he believes that thirty years ago, when he had a flat tire, his cousin drove past him without stopping to help, “and I KNOW he saw me!”

I feel the same pity for these people as I do for the person hopelessly waving the pill towards their stomach. Unfortunately, they were faced with a bitter pill they simply cannot swallow. The worst part of it is that because they can’t swallow it, they remain sick and get even sicker about things.

Instead of taking life’s bumps and bruises as lessons, or as G-d’s little instant messages, they take them personally and can’t imagine that they ever deserve to be treated that way. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Dovid HaMelech’s response to be cursed was, “Nu, HaShem told him to curse Dovid, why should I be upset if he was following the word of HaShem?”

Now, before you say, “But what this guy did to me wasn’t HaShem’s will, he did it because he’s a lousy sniveling weasel,” remember that nearly all Rishonim agree that nobody can help or harm you if it is NOT decreed in Shomayim.

Then remember something you say every day in davening, three times a day, “May my soul be as dust to everyone.” You got what you asked for, someone treated you like dirt! So what’s the problem? The problem is we don’t see ourselves the same way.

If we saw ourselves as frail creatures with shortcomings of our own, we mightn’t be so quick to judge someone for mistreating us. First of all, we wouldn’t let it bother us because we recognize that it’s coming from HaShem for a purpose, even if we don’t know what that purpose is.

Secondly, we’d realize that other people, too, are struggling with being the best human beings they can, and it’s not an easy job. Other people can be petty and thoughtless and their affronts on our personal honor don’t mean all that much. We’re better off ignoring the messenger and focusing on why this had to happen to us (which it did.)

Finally, as the Gemara says, people who are too makpid, (who mind things too much) get bellyaches. Why not save yourself the aggravation and get over the insult? When you bear a grudge, you’re still the one bearing it while the other party may have long forgotten it. You make yourself sick waiting for what? An apology? Divine retribution?

Don’t waste your time. Just accept that things happen and move on with your life. And if that seems hard to swallow, try some applesauce.


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