Parashat Matot-Masei – Cables of Steel
Rav Sam Millunchick
When I was in IDF basic training, the drill sergeant would make us do all sorts of crazy, off-the-wall stuff for no apparent reason. One time, he told us to run around the courtyard of the base, maybe 250m in total, in under 30 seconds. Now, I’m no competitive sprinter, and for 40+ young men to do that was nearly impossible. We would do this time after time—each time, we would fail, be punished, and have to do it again. Eventually, the drill sergeant gave up in disgust.
I would often wonder to myself—why he would give us such impossible tasks? What could be the point of telling someone to do something impossible? It seemed like he was trying to make us suffer.
It turns out he was.
I didn’t understand then that basic training, over and above its stated goal of turning a civilian into a soldier by teaching them essential survival and weapons skills, is to build camaraderie between the different soldiers in the unit. When we came into the army, we were a bunch of teenagers from different walks of life, from vastly different backgrounds, religious levels, and political beliefs. What the drill sergeant was trying to do was to create a bond between us.
When people suffer together, they stay together. Shared suffering, hardship, troubles – these create bonds between people like nothing else can. This is why people feel better during times of crisis than during their regular lives—it becomes easier to connect with those around you when there is a sense of shared purpose.
In recounting the Jews’ forty-two journeys in the desert, the Torah lists every stop along the way. Rashi¹ explains that each stop is recounted because of what it meant to the Jewish people and God. At each point, the Jewish people and God went through relationship-building moments—they suffered together, fought with each other, and had breakdowns and repairs.
And through each of these episodes, the Jewish people and God drew closer to one another, building an unbreakable bond—“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.”²
As we go through life, many of us do our best to avoid uncomfortable situations, steering clear of controversy or disagreement; we don’t want to put ourselves or others through pain. This is a mistake. Discomfort and pain are integral parts of life.
It is through those times of argument, of pain, that we learn to grow. When two people go through a difficult patch and learn to repair their relationship, to strengthen the weak points that came to the fore, they come out the other side bonded in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is why, given the proper support and guidance, a couple who are married for longer will have a stronger relationship than a couple who just recently tied the knot. The struggles, trials, and tribulations that the couple went through just to get to this point—figuring out what it means to live with another person and to respect their unique personality, raising children, financial hardships, and many other problems that crop up through the course of a life—these shared experiences serve to tie steel cables between their hearts.
Life is not easy. Suffering exists and isn’t going away any time soon. But we can use that suffering. If, instead of covering up our flaws and avoiding our imperfections, we shine a light on them; if instead of shying away from the difficult conversations we all need to have, we speak the truth with compassion and learn to begin to repair what’s broken; if instead of ignoring reality, we face it head on with another—a friend, a spouse, a child—we will find that out of our hardships, something wonderful has bloomed.
Shabbat Shalom Umevorach
Rav Sam Millunchick – On behalf of
The Selwyn and Ros Smith & Family MANHIGUT TORANIT PROGRAM