Of Pearls &Coffeeby Rachel Eden March 28, 2018
I recently saw a friend wearing classic black loafers with pearls peeking out of the soles. My friend happens to own a clothing boutique and when I complimented her footwear, she shared that pearls were, in fact, all over the fashion runway this season and would certainly be making appearances in mainstream stores too. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been contemplating pearls so much lately. To be honest, it’s not their material value or aesthetic beauty that captures my attention, but rather how they’re formed. Any mollusk with a shell can form a pearl, including clams, oysters and marine snails. The process is fascinating: A tiny organism invades the creature and disrupts the cells causing a resilient substance called nacre (mother of pearl) to be secreted. The nacre is somehow both lighter and stronger than concrete! After several years and thousands of layers of nacre, a smooth iridescent gem is formed. The rare pearl is the product of time, consistent effort, and, yes, an (unwelcome) invasion.
In the introduction of Moe Mernick’s book, “The Gift of Stuttering: Confronting Life’s Challenges,” he describes a daughter talking about her difficulties to her mother. In response, the mother boiled three pots of water and placed carrots in the first pot, eggs in the second and ground coffee beans in the third. Once cooked, she opened each pot’s lid and showed her daughter the contents. The carrots had turned very soft, the eggs had hardened under their shell, and the beans had turned into a rich, fragrant liquid. The mother explained that each ingredient had faced the same adversity – boiling water – but reacted differently. The carrot, originally hard and unbending, became soft and weak. The egg, fragile and fluid, hardened. Only the ground coffee beans responded uniquely as it was the one ingredient that transformed the boiling water itself.
The reader is then tasked to introspect, which of these ingredients resonates with me? Am I hard and tough but crumble when faced with challenges? Am I soft and malleable but harden with cynicism or bitterness after experiencing loss or pain? Or am I like the ground coffee beans? Allowing the heat of the water to bring out something far more appealing, aromatic, and flavorful? During Passover, we may consider these reflections as they pertain to our Jewish nation.
As we, the Jewish people, were finally fleeing Egypt, along with our taskmasters and harrowing lifestyle, we were suddenly faced with the Red Sea (Yam Suf). After so much adversity and suffering, just when we thought we were liberated, we faced yet another challenge. We couldn’t turn back, bitter and hardened, and fight the same people who had oppressed us for so long. We also couldn’t move forward, soft and weak, to a certain death in the sea either. So what could we do?
Had I been faced with these circumstances, I can imagine myself throwing my hands up and asking, “G-d, what could you possibly want from us now?” Fortunately, a great person who led by example forged the path. His name was Nachshon ben Aminadav and he answered my rhetorical question with his own response: What should you do when you can’t turn back and are afraid to move forward? You keep going anyway – one step at a time – and that’s what he did. He took one step forward, then another, entered the water and continued walking until the water reached his neck.
Sometimes, it feels as though the water is up to our necks. We don’t know how we’re going to face our current challenge – whether externally or internally generated. The answer is still the same as it was for the Jews facing the Red Sea, the mollusk forming the pearl, and the coffee confronting the boiling pot. We all keep going, no matter the pain or fear or confusion, slowly but surely, with steadfast faith until our proverbial seas split. When we do this, as a united nation or as individuals, the most gorgeous and rare pearls emerge from our pain. When we do this, we not only transform ourselves, but the waters around us. Α