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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Bitter tastes from the past

Daf Yomi Gittin 72


Sitting in the living room in his big rocking chair, Grandpa was enjoying his afternoon nap.  Just then, a couple of the grandchildren decided to play a trick on him and painted his moustache with a foul-smelling ointment.  Finally he woke up and encountered the awful smell.
‘Boy, it stinks in here!’ he exclaimed.  He quickly got up from his chair, moved to the dining room, and took a sniff.
‘Oh my, it smells in here as well!’ he said with alarm.  Desperately needing some fresh air and respite from the terrible odour, he stepped outside onto the porch in front of his house.  He took a huge whiff of air.
‘I can’t believe it!’ he cried.  ‘The whole world stinks!’

We learned in a Mishnah: If a man told his wife, ‘I hereby hand you this bill of divorce, if I fail to return from here until twelve months’ time,’ but then died within the twelve months, it is not a valid divorce.  (Therefore, she is required to perform the levirate marriage with her brother-in-law.)
Concerning this teaching, the Beraisa states: Our Rabbis permitted her to remarry (and did not subject her to the levirate marriage requirement).
They asked: Who are ‘Our Rabbis’?
Rav Yehuda quoted Shmuel: It was the court that permitted gentile oil.

What was the famous ruling of the court about gentile oil that our Gemara refers to?  The court of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia permitted using oil from a pot where non-kosher food had previously been cooked.  How does that work?

You would think that oil from non-kosher pots would extract the forbidden substances deep within the recesses of the pot, and therefore be forbidden.  But according to the court of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia, as long as the pot had not been used for non-kosher food in the previous twenty four hours, the oil is permissible for consumption.  Why?  Because any taste that might be ‘awoken’ by the new cooking process has already sat there for so long that it is no good anymore.   If a taste does remain, it is a bad taste and consequently not prohibited.

Nobody’s life is perfect.  We have all had bad experiences at various points in our lives.  And we have all made mistakes.  Some people think they can simply forget what has happened and move on.  But, like the pot that cooked non-kosher, no matter how much you scrub at it, it never really goes away.  It may not be visible, but the taste remains in the deep recesses of your mind and soul.

The good news is that after a while the old taste in the pot is no longer effectual.  It may resurface, but it cannot spoil the kosher food you’re cooking.  Your bad experiences from the distant past have no power over your life today!  That doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten them; they simply have no power to ruin the positive energy you are now enjoying.

And that’s why the same Rabbis that permitted the oil also permitted the wife in our Gemara to move on with her life and remarry.  We’re not pretending she wasn’t married; of course she was.  But we’re not allowing her issues from the past to have a negative impact upon her life today.

Many people in the world today have unhappy lives simply because they insist on dwelling on the negative experiences in their past.  Instead of letting go of the unpleasantness of the past, they magnify it.  Instead of recognizing that the past ‘taste’ is ineffectual at ruining what is currently ‘in the pot’ of their lives, they do their very best to constantly rehash and reboil their old bitter tastes.

What past tastes are you dwelling on?  What experience are you allowing to hold you back from enjoying complete happiness today?  What bitterness are you insisting on maintaining and cultivating?

It’s time to let go and move on!  Anger is self-destructive.  By dwelling on your past misfortune, you’re only ruining the taste of your current food!  Every morning when you wake up and each evening before you retire, count your blessings and thank Heaven for all the good food you have in your pot!  And refuse the coaxing of your yetzer (bad inclination) to bring back the old bitter taste!

When you retain the bitter taste, everything you eat tastes bitter.  It’s like the grandpa who concluded that the whole world stinks.  If your life tastes terrible, you need to ask yourself what bitter taste is sitting on your tongue and negatively impacting everything you’re experiencing in your life.  Once you’ve figured out what the poison is, flush it away forever!


Every person has bitter pills to swallow in life – you often don’t get the choice whether or not to take the pill.  But you do have the choice whether to just swallow it or to suck on the pill and let the taste linger on for years.  May you never permit the bitter tastes of the past destroy the delicious food of the present!