Daf Yomi Sotah 19
Ehud ben Gera had a short right hand that appeared so crippled that it was unusable. In the time of the early Judges, Israel was under the rule of Moav and life was very difficult. King Eglon would tax them something terrible and senselessly oppress them. In an effort to stay in his good favour, one day the leaders decided to send him a special tribute. They chose Ehud, for he was a righteous, yet humble man.
Ehud set off on his mission, but secretly hid a sword by his right thigh, knowing that he would pass without suspicion and inspection. Arriving at the king, he asked that everyone in the court be sent out so that he could deliver a special message from the Children of Israel. Once alone with the king, Ehud pulled out his sword and thrust it into Eglon’s fleshy body, hastily leaving with no one the wiser. After that incredible incident, Israel lived in peace for eighty years.
Concerning the bitter sotah waters, the Torah states, “He shall inscribe these curses on parchment and then scratch them off into the bitter waters. . . The cohen shall scoop out the meal-offering . . . and afterwards he shall give the woman the water to drink. And he shall give her the water to drink . . .”
Rabbi Shimon asks: Why does the Torah repeat that the cohen must give her to drink?
He answers: ‘Afterwards’ comes to teach that it must take place after all the other rituals, which means that the non-performance of three rituals impedes the drinking. He must first scoop out the meal-offering; he must first scratch off the letters from the scroll; and she must first accept the oath.
The Gemara asks: If he has not yet scratched off the letters, what would he give her to drink?
Rav Ashi answers: We mean that the mark of the writing is still visible.
Rashi explains: He must continue scratching until there is no mark of the letters left.
Imagine this piece of parchment. The cohen has scratched off the letters into the bitter waters. But now Rabbi Shimon teaches that it is not sufficient to merely scratch of the ink; there can be no mark remaining on the parchment. The indentation that was caused when the cohen pressed down as he wrote must also be erased. So he continues to scratch off more parchment until you cannot tell that there was ever a letter aleph there at all.
But what are you left with on the parchment? A major blotch of scratch mark. Sure, on the one hand you cannot tell what letter was originally present; but on the other hand, you are not left with a clean slate of parchment. Instead, you now have a scratchy blotch on the parchment.
Life if full of ups and downs. Some bad experiences in life we would rather not remember. And so we turn to all different methods to rid ourselves of our demons – from psychotherapy to medication to meditation. With the right treatment and advice, you may be able to erase those letters from your parchment. You may be able to exorcise the demons from within.
But you cannot change your past. If you keep scratching away until the mark of the letters is no longer visible, you will be left instead with a great big blotch mark. You see, the Almighty gives us certain experiences in life to enable us to grow and become stronger. If life had no challenges, there would be no purpose in being here in this world. We could remain in Heaven as bodiless souls.
Ehud ben Gera could have spent his life feeling sorry for himself, thinking of himself as a cripple, unable to live life to the max. But he never thought of himself that way. He wasn’t disabled; he was a healthy person with a challenge to his physique. The question he always would ponder was why G-d had created him different – what special mission did He have in store for him? And one day, he discovered why he was fashioned ‘special’ by the Creator. Only he could save Israel from Moav.
You are here to survive what life throws at you and become more powerful for it. You are who you are today because of all the trials and tribulations you have undergone. Some of them served simply to build your character; others were given to you to learn from and be able to help others deal with similar issues.
Maybe you had a difficult upbringing: parents who died young or were, G-d forbid, abusive. Don’t try to erase the past; the mark will always be there. Instead, realize that the Almighty has given you special insights to help children in need.
Maybe you’re getting over a difficult divorce. You want to forget everything that happened and erase that chapter from your life. But perhaps Heaven has given you that challenge to gain greater insight into human nature and be able to help bring shalom to your community and society.
Nothing in life happens for naught. Your mission is to take the mark that is left from your ordeals and figure out how to transform it into positive energy. May you embrace your mission and transform your warts into flowers to make this world a better place!