Moses and the Lobster
Discomfort, growth and joy
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski highlights a spiritual principle from the life of Moses…with a lobster! Commenting on Deuteronomy 31:2, Twerski references the Rebbe of Gur, who said that Moses lived for only one reason: to fulfill his mitzvos [religious duties] and grow spiritually.
Moses pleaded to be allowed to enter the Holy Land so that he could do these mitzvos. When his pleas were turned down and he saw that there was no way he could further grow spiritually anymore, he accepted death. For Moses, a life that was without spiritual growth was not worth living.
Moses believed in spiritual growth, and in relation with joy. Moses taught that simchah [joy] was an ‘essential component of the Divine service.’ In Deuteronomy 28:47, he warned the Israelites of ‘dire consequences that would befall the person, “Because you did not serve G-d with joy.”
Twerski notes that the Hebrew word same'ach [happy] is related to and perhaps derived from the same source as tzome'ach [growth]. He concludes: “True happiness can come only from growth, especially spiritual growth. A life devoid of spiritual growth is devoid of simchah.” And here Twerski illustrates inner life with a lobster.
There is an important message in the relationship of Some’ach to tzome’ach. Elsewhere I have cited the Talmud that we should learn some things from observation of nature (Eruvin 100b). We might learn from nature by observing how lobsters grow.
Lobsters are confined within a rigid shell. As the lobster grows, the shell becomes too confining and oppressive. It then sheds its shell and grows a more spacious one. As the lobster continues to grow, each new shell eventually becomes oppressive, leading to the formation of a larger one. The stimulus that enables the lobster to grow is the discomfort it feels when its shell becomes oppressive. If the lobster would not feel discomfort, it would remain forever tiny.
Growth is often accompanied by discomfort. “For with much wisdom comes much suffering” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Yet, tzome'ach is related to same'ach. Hence, there can be simchah even when one experiences discomfort. This is why we find that our great tzaddikim (the truly righteous) welcomed suffering. The spiritual growth that was stimulated by the discomfort more than compensated for the suffering.
This lesson of spiritual growth related to discomfort [path to mystical joy] is all the more important because it is often lost on our generation. Our world relates happiness with comfort, and so flees from real joy…the simchah contained in spiritual growth.
We live in an era where scientific advances have given us unprecedented comfort in living. Western civilization has become essentially hedonistic. Whereas it is perfectly normal to seek relief from pain, we are at risk of rejecting all types of discomfort, including those that are the stimuli for spiritual growth. If we eschew spiritual growth because of the discomfort that may accompany it, we may also be lessening the amount of true simchah that we can achieve.
Rabbi Twerski closes the lesson with this moral:
On the day of his death, Vayeilech Moshe, Moses progressed. Moses had one last opportunity for growth, to fulfill the mitzvah of giving reproof and blessing.
Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher. He taught us and continues to teach us that growing…is the source of true simchah.
It is ours to receive this reproof of Moses, and in the reproof find mysterious blessing!
Moses’ lobster as judge of Christendom
This lesson of Moses and the lobster stands in stark reproval of modern Christianity. Frankly, many Christians [and churches] have reduced faith to what is reasonable, and reduced calling to what comes easy, through ‘open doors.’
I say this in confession: I speak from the inside, as a product of my time, as one who subconsciously bought into this easy formula of Christendom…on several levels. It is only through a painful, long prayer journey that I have come to see the lie in this comfortable package. We’ve reduced divine calling to platitudes of communal and family expectation…and called it ‘wisdom.’ We’ve reduced the terrible, vital joy – true awefulness of God – into fun, and codified it into such doctrine that comfort is our new creed. We’ve taken Aslan – who is not a tame Lion – and de-clawed Him to fit our hedonistic Christianity. In this theme, Kierkegaard asks a searching question: “Will God put up with this?”
In talking with a pupil, a teacher sometimes expresses himself in lower terms while meaning something higher, but he does so in such a way that the pupil understands it. He says, for example, “Tomorrow will be a fun day” and means by this that it will be a rigorous day with much to do, which in a certain higher sense can also be fun. But suppose that a pupil takes the liberty of pretending he did not understand and loafs all day long. When the teacher rebukes him he answers, “Didn’t you say that tomorrow should be a fun day?” Would the teacher put up with this?
So it is with Christianity. In His majestic language God has proclaimed a great joy to us – a great joy. Yes, God cannot speak in any other way about the high goal He has for us.
And what is Christendom? Christendom is a tricky boy who pretends he does not understand what God meant but thinks that since it is a great joy the task must be to enjoy life thoroughly. Does God put up with this?
According to Kierkegaard, the Christianity that uses [utilizes] eternity to give flavor to this life, without consistently ordering this life in eternity, has already sold out to the world.
The world does not want to eliminate Christianity, it is not that straightforward, nor does it have that much character. No, it wants it proclaimed falsely, using eternity to give a flavor to the enjoyment of life.
That is where we find ourselves in Christendom. We’ve created a system to guard ourselves against calling…and the divine joy it brings.
What purports to give greater satisfaction, namely, the reduction of Christianity to comfort, and reduction of God’s will to ease and ‘open doors,’ is actually the means by which the highest joy is postponed. How? Because it is the means by which growth is denied. It denies the Christian her highest rooms intended by grace, by telling her in very reasonable terms that God never intended that struggle for her…nor called her to it because it is hard! Thus Kierkegaard says, “Christianity is proclaimed in Christendom in such a way that obedience is taken away and reasoning put in its place.”
It is here that a holy lobster becomes a spiritual guide.
True joy comes in growth and growth in discomfort…the discomfort of divine calling.
And…the next time you sit down for lobster, let this lesson echo in your heart. And obey.
For here is your joy!
Cf. Abraham J. Twerski, "Moses and the Lobster: True Happines Can Only Come through Growth," Jewish World Review.
Cf. Soren Kierkegaard, "Christendom and Counterfeit Christianity," Provocations: the Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, edited by Charles E. Moore.