In this week’s Parashah, the Torah states (Shemot 15:23), "VeLo Yachelu Lishtot Mayim MiMarah Ki Marim Heim,” “And they (Bnei Yisrael) were not able to drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter.” Both the Kotzker Rebbe and the Ba’al Shem Tov explain the words "because they were bitter," as a reference not only to the waters but also to the Jews themselves. The Jews, throughout their journey, constantly have a bitter attitude. Even after Hashem has just taken them out of Mitzrayim, all they do is complain and have a sour attitude.
Rav Zelig Pliskin points out, “Anyone looking for flaws and defects will always be able to find them. A bitter person makes himself miserable. The source of the problem is not out there, but within himself. By sweetening one's own outlook, one will live in a much sweeter world.” Furthermore, Rav Dr. Abraham Twerski explains that often, we might look at a situation and immediately view it as bitter. However, in reality, the only factor making the circumstances bitter is our initial distorted perception.
Hashem tells Moshe to sweeten the water by taking the branch of a tree and throwing it into the water. What is the point of this action? How does tossing a branch into bitter water make it sweet?
The answer may lie in symbolism. The Torah is called the Tree of Life, because just as man cannot survive without trees, man cannot survive without Torah. When Moshe dips the tree branch into the bitter water, he is performing a symbolic gesture to show that just as a branch can sweeten the bitter water, so too learning Torah can sweeten a bitter person and give him a positive outlook on life.
Rav Yehezkhel Abramsky says that people who are not satisfied with life become angry easily. However, authentic Torah scholars are undoubtedly filled with happiness, satisfaction, pleasure, and joy. After all, such a person is so full of pleasure and satisfaction from his studies that he will not become frustrated over mundane matters. Such a person is interested only in Torah and Mitzvot. Such a person increases peace in the world.
Perhaps the Torah records this event prior to Matan Torah for a reason. Even before our nation is given the Torah, Bnei Yisrael are shown how satisfying it is to the heart. We must keep this message in mind today and realize that happiness is ingrained in the very essence of Torah. If we seize this veiled joy, a better world will similarly reveal itself.