The first miracle that Elisha HaNavi performed during his many years of leadership was the sweetening of the bitter waters of Yericho. The Pesukim in Melachim Bet (Perek 3) record that the people of Yericho complained that their water supply had turned sour and unusable. Facing a dire crisis, they turned to Elisha for help. Elisha took a bowl, filled it with salt and promptly poured it into the water supply. In a moment, the water became pure and usable.
This story is strikingly similar to the miracle at Marah (see Shmot 15:22-26). Just days after the Jews crossed the sea they ran out of water. When they finally encountered an oasis in the desert, its waters were found to be bitter and unfit for drinking. The desperate Jewish People turned to their leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, for help. Moshe took a tree – etz, threw it into the water and miraculously sweetened the waters.
In both accounts of terrible drought, the Jews were saved with almost identical miracles; bitter waters were sweetened with an equally bitter added agent.
Why did God and the prophets choose to sweeten the waters by adding more bitterness to the waters rather than adding more sweetness?
The Midrash underscores this difficulty by noting that God does not work the same way that people do. When people want to sweeten something bitter, they add something sweet. When God wants to sweeten something bitter, he adds more bitterness.
What are Chazal trying to teach us about God in this puzzling Midrash?
Some Meforshim explain that the key to our questions lies in appreciating the completely opposite perspectives with which man and God view the world. Man tries to improve difficult situations by injecting good or by removing bad. But God does not need to add or remove good or bad to improve a situation. God demonstrates to us that the bad that we observe is only superficially bad and from His perspective everything that occurs fits into the master plan. We strive to believe that the very things that seem most bitter to us are really not bad in the end and are choreographed by God Himself. Even bitterness can taste sweet when viewed “through heaven’s eyes.”