Shlomo Ezagui

The Bitter Shell First

The Baal Shem Tov taught that worry and sadness are the roots of all negativity in life. “One cannot serve God properly without joy.” The voice of the evil in everyone tries to make the person feel bad about failing at even the smallest thing, making it seem like a huge mistake.

A person must give this little evil voice inside a frank and candid retort, says the Baal Shem Tov. “This is just a trick of yours to disrupt my life and disturb my service of God!” “For even if I have genuinely committed a major sin, it is more important to God right now, that I proceed to serve Him joyfully.”

Once, a student went to see Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to get advice on how to deal with his annoying, uninvited thoughts. The Rabbi said he should serve God with joy. And the Rabbi explained, “A person’s soul always seeks expression through enjoyment and pleasure. If it does not find this satisfaction and joy in the positive and spiritual service of God, which is best for the person, it will always seek it elsewhere since life can never accept a vacuum.”

A blessing exists in every situation, however negative it appears. Noticing and celebrating this goodness becomes the impetus for greater growth.

Life is compared to bitter olives. It is true that inside the olive, there is oil used for warmth and light; however, we first encounter the bitterness of the outside. Oil from an olive floats to the top and always stays true to itself, even when mixed with other liquids. Oil will always remain separate and distinct.

Our sages tell us this metaphor teaches a fundamental lesson.

Everyone has a bitter side and, deep down inside, a spark of light. Bitterness represents the body’s temptations, distractions, and challenges—the shell, the inflated ego, which is constantly trying to project itself superficially and deceptively. “I need this, I want this, I made myself, I am attracted and drawn by that, and this will make me (my body immediate gratification) feel good.”

Like the flesh of the olive, which is bitter and from the realm of negativity, all these drives of the body ultimately thrust a person toward the undesirable and the unhappy. However, when the olive is crushed, and we draw the deep-rooted good from inside when a person subdues and overcomes his impulses, this draws out the oil, representing the deep good, the wisdom, the light, and the Godly strength in every person.

We would all like to have an easy, enjoyable life. According to the Bible, only those who sow in tears will reap joy. To experience joy most fully and joyfully, one must welcome the challenges and problems God puts in his way.

By embracing daily challenges with the trust that all is for good, we generate the joy necessary to deal with the issues in the most potent fashion. Overcoming our battles brings out the oil—deeper and greater wisdom, light, and true joy—that can only be obtained by overcoming the difficulty and reaching the hidden good that God planted within us and is waiting for us to discover.

Chapter 179



About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
Related Topics
Related Posts