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Thursday, 9 February 2017

How to acquire a taste for chili peppers

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 18


Mike Tyson is one of the greatest boxers of our day. He was the undisputed world heavyweight champion of the late twentieth century, continuing into the first few years of this millennium.  Often controversial inside and outside the ring, one of his most bizarre performances was when he infamously bit a piece out of Evander Holyfield’s ear!   Holyfield has since forgiven him and today Mike Tyson has turned over a new leaf in his life.  He chairs the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation, which gives kids from broken homes a “fighting chance.”

Despite Tyson’s colorful life story, some of his pre-match and post-match lines have really stuck.  Once, right before entering the ring, he was asked what his response would be to the specific moves of his opponent.  He famously responded, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

One must distance a pool in which flax is soaked from vegetables growing in a neighboring field (so you do not poison their vegetables), and one must distance leeks from onions growing in a neighboring field (so you do not dull the taste of their onions), and one must distance mustard plants from neighboring beehives.
Rashi explains: For the bees eat the mustard causing their mouths to burn up, and return to the hive and eat their own honey to get rid of the spicy taste.  (Thus, the beehive owners lose the honey they are cultivating).

Unfortunately, most people in this world live a life of mediocrity.  They might have big dreams but they never quite get there.  Why not?  Half of them never even try.  They’re not willing to take risks.  It’s much easier to stay the course and hope that plodding along will eventually lead them somewhere.

The other half have tried.  They’ve taken that leap of faith and tasted life outside the box.  But at first, that taste can burn the mouth.  They thought they wanted something more, only to find out that mustard wasn’t quite as tasty as it looked and smelled.  And so, unable to take the pain, they quickly scampered back to the comfort of their hives and filled their mouths with honey.

If you want to be successful in life, you have to stick with the mustard.  The more you eat the mustard, the more you will be able to handle it.  Until eventually, mustard doesn’t faze you in the slightest.  When you reach that point, it’s time to attack the chili pepper plant!

In Born Jumping, Benjamin Genet challenges the aphorism, ‘Practice makes perfect.’  If you do something over and over again, the wrong way, you will never become perfect!  Rather, “Practice makes permanent.”  The more you eat the mustard, the more you will be able to bear the taste of mustard.  Initially, your response will be that it’s awful, it’s painful.  Over time, however, it becomes natural.  And now you’re ready for even bigger challenges in life.

As Mike Tyson declared, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  You might have big dreams for your career, great academic ambitions, awesome communal leadership aspirations, but you need to be ready to handle that first punch in the mouth.  Be prepared for that mustard taste! 

Only the truly great continue to take the punches, continue to eat the mustard.  But the more you do, the more it will feel natural.  And the greater the heights you will be able to ascend to!


Eat the mustard.  Savour the taste.  And then eat a little more.  Until you become one with it.  May you achieve greatness in every area of your life, from the spiritual to the material to the emotional and psychological!