February 14, 2023

Nedarim 58

Last night I spoke with a spiritual-coaching client who was wrestling with a difficult decision. They already knew what they needed to do, but they were holding themselves back because their decision involved a ‘yerida letzorech aliyah’ – a short-term descent for the sake of a long-term ascent. Consequently, they sought my advice to help them look beyond the immediate for the sake of the future.
In our deep conversation I referenced the wise insights of Rabbanit Shayna Goldberg (who discusses decision-making from trust and fear in her book, ‘What do you really want?’), and Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Schiffman (who explores how we make decisions for the future in his book, ‘Psyched for Torah’), as well as various other ideas from the Torah and Midrash. A few hours later, I received a message from this client thanking me for our session and telling me that they’ve found peace in the decision they’ve made which they recognise is the right thing to do.
With this in mind I’d now like to discuss today’s daf (Nedarim 58b), because it was when I read a few words in our daf, seemingly about something completely different, that I was reminded of this concept of ‘yerida letzorech aliyah’ and of this coaching session. Specifically, as part of its discussion about seeds and growth, the Gemara raises the possibility that what the Rabbis are discussing is a דָבָר שֶׁזַּרְעוֹ כָּלֶה – a plant whose seed decomposes when it grows, meaning that while, on appearance, the seed looks like it is decaying, this is itself part of its growth process (i.e. hypogeal germination).
Interestingly, this process of ‘yerida letzorech aliyah’ in nature is discussed elsewhere in the Gemara (see Temurah 31a) where we are told that when an egg begins a process which looks like decomposition, it is actually a sign of imminent transformation in terms of the beginning of the life of a chick. As Rabbi Yisroel Reisman observes (in his ‘Pathways of the Prophets’ p. 91) while mentioning this point about the egg, ‘sometimes things must spoil before they improve’.
What we learn from all this is that sometimes the most life-affirming changes appear, at least for a short period of time, as if they are life-disrupting. This is what happens when we observe a דָבָר שֶׁזַּרְעוֹ כָּלֶה. And this is what happens when we observe the metamorphosis of the egg. But in both these cases, and in life itself, ups often come from downs and there are occasions when we need to experience a ‘yerida letzorech aliyah’. And though we can learn this lesson from many different sources, all we need is an egg, or a seed, to remind us of the fact that how the process of change looks, and what the result of change is, are two very different things.
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