Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles
When Moshe, Aharon, his sons, and the seventy elders ascended Har Sinai, they saw a vision of Hashem. “Under His feet was the livnat hasapir,” the sapphire brickwork. Rashi says that this brickwork served to remind Hashem of the suffering of the Jewish people in Egypt.
Rav Belsky asks why the bricks in this vision were made of sapphire and not of straw and mud like the bricks that caused the torment in Egypt? He explains, we tend to focus mainly on the redemption and the giving of the Torah, which were major events in Jewish history. However, the unpleasant Egyptian servitude also impacted the Jews in a deep way. Only a people who had experienced so much suffering could become Hashem‘s nation. In Hashem‘s eyes, every mud brick was a sapphire.
The capacity to transform difficulty into lessons of tremendous value is one of the greatest abilities a person can develop in life. Every painful experience has meaning and purpose. The greatness of a person is revealed when he takes those bricks of clay and transforms them into sapphire gems. Our challenge is turning our burdens into opportunities. How do we accomplish this?
The first way is to remember that eventually, in retrospect, we will understand everything. When the sea split and the Jews saw the great hand of Hashem upon the Egyptians, they realized the meaning behind their suffering. The Chatam Sofer expounds this idea. Moshe asked Hashem, “Show me your ways.” Hashem responded, “You shall see my back, but not my face.” When we view things in historical perspective, we can understand the whole picture. On the sixth day of creation, the Torah says that Hashem looked at all that He had made and, “V’hinei tov moed“(And behold it was very good.) What was very good? Suffering. In the context of the six days of creation, you can see things in their entirety and then you can understand how affliction is really a blessing.
The second way is turning our suffering into trust. Trust is a result of emotional closeness, not intellectual understanding. Emotional intimacy allows one to live with an intellectual problem because one’s trust is so great. When you feel Hashem is your loving father, you have a deeper sense of trust when seemingly bad things happen. Without knowing the why of our pain we can still find meaning in it and be consoled.
The third way is turning fate into destiny. Sometimes the only way to deal with tragedy is to transform it into opportunity.
The Baalei Mussar explain that the elders were shown the livnat hasapir because Hashem wanted to tell them Itcha anochi b’tzara, (I am with you in your pain). Throughout the slavery in Egypt I was with you, and now I am with you in your joy as you receive the Torah. This is the attribute of nosei b’ol im chaverio, sharing in a friend’s burden. This applies to feeling the suffering of others, and rejoicing in their joy. The entire parsha is predicated on this. It begins with how a master must treat his servant and ends with the livnat hasapir. When we can feel for another person, we’ve turned our bricks into sapphire, we’ve achieved redemption.
Rav Chaim Friedlander says that feeling along with another person is accomplished through shrinking the ego. Nosei b’ol is not only in the realm of emotions but in the realmof actions. If you can’t help someone physically, you can still pray for them. The Sichot Mussar notes that just as Hashem had the livnat hasapir under his feet as a constant reminder, we too should create reminders for ourselves to think of others.
The livnat hasapir teaches us to turn our pain into opportunity, our suffering into moments of closeness to Hashem. We can create jewels in our life and feel the pain and joy of others. When we step out of our narrow constraints, we can make the suffering lighter. When we turn someone else’s bricks into sapphire, we’ve turned our own too.