We Give the Axe its Handle

When the Torah describes Creation, instead of going into great detail about how it all happened, it only specifies the creation of each general type of creation.  It doesn’t mention the creation of piranhas or starfish but rather fish.  One of the details that is omitted is the creation of iron, but a fascinating Midrash nevertheless records a dialogue between God and Creation that immediately followed the creation of this element.  It says that when iron was created, the trees became frightened because the sharp blade of the axe causes their destruction.  God said to them, “You need have no fear.  Let none of you provide wood for the axe handle, and the blade will be harmless” (Bereishit Rabbah 5).  What is the meaning of this Midrashic passage?  What message does the allegorical dialogue between God and the trees teach us?

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD writes that this Midrashic passage teaches a profound truth about the theater of life.  “Iron will be no threat to you,” said God, “unless you, yourselves, empower it.”  Although life throws us many wild pitches that are not caused by our own actions in any way, many vicissitudes that we face are in fact brought on by and result from our own actions.  We personally bring on, albeit inadvertently and unknowingly, much of the suffering and many of the challenges that we encounter in life.  We can be our own worst enemies.  One way to sidestep the discomfort wrapped up in truly dealing with a problem of our own making is to instead pretend the problem is an external one.  This shift of the blame can then act as a coping mechanism that kicks in to numb the pain of ignoring reality while the actual issue snowballs.  One aspect of maturity is be able to direct our critical eye back on ourselves.  If the tree uses its resources wisely the axe will never be any cause for concern.


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