By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
I recently had the occasion to be in a small, idyllic, picturesque mountain town often compared for its beauty to Switzerland. While there, I met a young man from Switzerland. I thought that I had an opportunity to settle the debate we were having about whether it is, in fact, nicer there than in the vaunted European country. So I asked him for his opinion as to which place is nicer. As befits a citizen of that very proper country, he thought for several moments before responding with much candor.
“It’s very hard for me to answer the question, but I would have to say that it is nicer here. You see, in Switzerland, you are in the Alps, so you don’t really appreciate their splendor. Here, you are in a valley surrounded by the mountain ranges. As you look up and around, you are surrounded by the mountains and are much more able to appreciate their beauty.”
He said it so matter-of-factly, but I sat there in quiet amazement as his words sunk in. They were a metaphor for so much in our lives. So often, we don’t appreciate what we have because we are so close to it. Because we are involved in it, we don’t value the experience. It takes one to step back and view something from the outside in order to have the proper respect for it.
There is so much good out there, and despite the setbacks we all have in our lives, there is more happiness than sadness, more gain than pain, more to be thankful for than to be upset about. All too often, we don’t step back and take a look at the entire view and thus aren’t able to properly apprise ourselves of our own situations.
Along the mountains, streams flow with the crystal clear run-off of the melting snow of the ranges. The splendor of Hashem’s majesty is reflected in those calm waters. In fact, it is only in calm waters in which you can see reflections. Waters which move rapidly and churn about bear no reflections. In order to appreciate the goodness we are blessed with, we need to reflect with quiet patience upon the world and our gifts.
The Yom Tov of Pesach presented us with just such an opportunity. We experienced a break in the rush and flow of our harried lives. Instead of rushing off to work and the plethora of mundane activities which occupy a regular day, we were occupied with mitzvos and simcha. On Yom Tov, there are no carpools, no bills to pay, no silly obligations to fulfill. We daven, thanking Hashem for his goodness and kindness towards us, and then we return home to be surrounded by family and friends in effusive joy.
We spent eight days subsisting on matzoh and a more refined diet than we do the whole year. We spent eight days surrounded and affected by kedushah. We refrained from unnecessary work and pressure.
And then we turned around and it was over. After all the preparation and all the efforts we put into making those days into yimei cheirus, we found ourselves back in the world of avdus. It’s enough to depress you.
But perhaps while we were engrossed in the yimei kedushah, we failed to appreciate their beauty and the gifts they bore us. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can look back at those rejuvenating days and their restorative qualities. Remembering them and their summits of experiences will help inspire and strengthen us to be able to surmount the challenges we face.
In this week’s parshiyos of Tazriah and Metzorah, we learn of the plight of the metzorah, one who has spoken lashon hara and has been stricken with tzoraas. The metzorah is taken outside of the camp, where he remains.
Often, jealousy is the trigger that leads people to speak lashon hara of others. Someone who does not properly appreciate that which he possesses and has been blessed with develops a jealousy of people he thinks are better off than he. Insecurity and unhappiness grow out of a lack of appreciation for a person’s own gifts, leading people to contrast themselves with others, focusing on what others seem to have and he himself seems to lack, while ignoring the good that he has been bestowed with.
Perhaps, then, one purpose of sending the metzorah from the machaneh is to allow him to contemplate and gain cognizance of the brachos that exist in his life. Unencumbered by his everyday activities and no longer surrounded by his family, neighbors and friends, he is granted a clear mind and an unobstructed view of his life. The metzorah goes out of his regular environs and is given the ability to think about his life and his family and the myriad gifts that have been given to him from Above.
When we are surrounded by everything Hakadosh Boruch Hu has granted us, we can lack the vision or ability to fully appreciate our lot in life. Similar to the person living in the Alps, we lack the ability to see the full picture. It is only when we are able to look on from the outside that we can truly comprehend how wondrous our lives really are.
I thought of a deeper related lesson inherent in that person’s comment about the valley surrounded by the mountain ranges. Sometimes, we need to be in the proverbial valley to truly appreciate what we have achieved at the top of the mountain. We can never adequately give thanks to Hashem for having been blessed to reach the heights we have attained without ever having been at the bottom, which allows us to see just how much we have accomplished and how far we have come.
It is with these thoughts in mind that we can approach the introspective days of Sefirah leading up to accepting the Torah anew on Shavuos. We are thus positioned for a better view of where we stand in our mission on this world and what our goals and aspirations ought to be for the bright future which lies ahead of us.