A story about adversity: A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were difficult for her. She did not know how she was going to make it.
Her mother took her to the kitchen, filling three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second, eggs, and in the last, ground coffee beans.
She let them boil without saying a word. Twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners. She fished out the items and placed each in their own bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “What do you see?”
“Carrots, eggs and coffee,” she replied.
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. Pulling off the shell, she observed the egg was hard-boiled. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich flavor.
The daughter then asked, “What’s the point, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity … boiling water – but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting, but with adversity it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile, but after, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked the daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”
This Shabbat, we read about Jacob wrestling with the angel. Having just left Laban’s home, he is preparing to reunite with the brother he wronged years earlier. He is understandably nervous. After sending his family ahead, he spends the night by himself. During the night he wrestles with a being – it is unclear if the being is divine or human – but at daybreak when the being sees he cannot prevail, the being injures Jacob, and then tells him he must depart. Jacob answers, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The being blesses him and Jacob’s name was changed to Israel.
In this instance Jacob is a coffee bean. He demands that good – a blessing – come from adversity. He changes the adversity into something positive. And in the end, like the ground coffee beans, he too is changed for the better. Coffee beans cannot become tasty without boiling water and Jacob could not become Israel without struggling.
We too, are Israel. We have inherited the struggle and we have inherited the ability to be the coffee bean and demand the blessing.
Rabbi Shoshana Nyer is the director of lifelong learning at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood and the Jewish educator at Camp Wise in Claridon Township.