The Pressure Principle

The Pressure Principle

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and went to Charan (Genesis 28:10).

Beer-Sheba represented peace and tranquility. Charan stood for violence and immorality: it was the hub of tumult and turmoil, home of Laban, swindler and sheep-thief of note. Yet, ironically, it was there, in Charan, where Jacob raised his family, where the twelve tribes of Israel were founded.

Abraham had a wonderful son named Isaac, but he also fathered Ishmael. Isaac bore the pious Jacob, but also had a ruffian named Esau. Only Jacob is described as “select of the forefathers,” because his children were all righteous: “his progeny was perfect.”

Asks the Lubavitcher Rebbe: would not Beer-Sheba have made a better place for Jacob to have raised his children? Would not Beer-Sheba have been the ideal hothouse for the future Jewish people to be conceived and nurtured? Why, of all places, in Charan?

Says the Rebbe: the olive yields its best oil when pulverized. To produce gold, we need a fiery furnace where the intense heat on the raw metal leaves it purified and precious. Jacob did not have an easy life, but it made him a better man, and it made his children better children.

Many years ago, I met a young man who had just come out of military service in the South African army. I greeted him with the platitude, “So, Joe, did the army make you a man?” He said, “No, Rabbi, the army made me a Jew!” Apparently he had encountered more than a fair share of anti-Semitism in the military, and it actually strengthened his resolve to live a Jewish life. Today he is the proud father and grandfather of a lovely, committed Jewish family.

Life isn’t always smooth sailing. But it appears that the Creator, in his vast eternal plan, intended for us to experience difficulties in life. Evidently, we grow from our discomfort and challenges, to emerge better, stronger, wiser and more productive people. There is always a purpose to pain. As our physiotherapists tell us (with such compassion that I want to hit them!), “No pain, no gain.” It would seem that, like the olive, we too yield our very best when we are under pressure. (From personal experience—and my editor will confirm—I just can’t get these sermonettes done until I see a deadline staring me in the face.) The simple fact is that we produce best under pressure.

One of the reasons we use a hard-boiled egg on the Seder plate on Passover is to remind us of the festival offering brought in the Holy Temple. But the truth is that any cooked food would do. So, why an egg?

One of my favorite answers is that Jews are like eggs. The more they boil us, the harder we get. We have been punished and persecuted through the centuries, but it has only strengthened us, given us courage, faith and hope. At every point in our history we have always emerged from the tzores (hardships) of the time stronger, more tenacious and more determined than ever.

Jacob raised a beautiful family in less than ideal conditions. Please G‑d, we should emulate his example. Wherever we may be living and in whatever circumstances, may we rise to the challenge and live successful lives, and raise happy, healthy Jewish children who will build the future tribes of Israel.

I end with a little poem I wrote many years ago:

The tragedy of pain
is we overlook its aim
of leaving us humble and wise

Oh, how shallow
of man to wallow
in misery and never realize

That gold, so pure, is in fire proved
and oil from olive by crushing removed
’tis so with all things of worth

So differ from the rest
be strong in life’s test
and make of ordeal, rebirth.


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