Ever since March 2011 I have not tasted black pepper. Have I discovered an allergy? No. Have my taste buds gone bad? Nope, thank G-d. Black pepper shortage in my country? Not that either. Simply stopped putting black pepper in my food? No, no, no. I have been eating and enjoying foods spiced with the dried little berry fruit of the Piper nigrum plant but I simply do not taste its hot and spicy flavor. Let’s go back to March 2011. My friend Shoshana came to town and we met up for lunch in a nice dairy restaurant. I ordered fettuccine alfredo, my safe “go-to” option. I know I like it, it fills me up, yalla, we’re good. Shoshana ordered salmon fettuccine alfredo, the same creamy pasta dish but with added salmon flakes. We receive our plates and while I start to eat, Shoshana starts to spice. She sprinkles some black pepper on her pasta, and then some more and then some more. She’s not stopping. “Shoshana?” I ask, concerned, “Are you okay?” “Why wouldn’t I be?” Shoshana wants to know, as she continues to pour black pepper on her food. “That’s a lot of black pepper,” I state the obvious. “Like, really a lot. You’re going to eat that?” She stops, tastes some of the pasta, pauses thoughtfully, adds a bit more black pepper, and then resumes eating, contentedly. I, on the other hand, stop. I consider to how she can so calmly consume so much of the fiery black pepper with nary a gasp or a grimace. The smell alone is becoming too pungent for me! “Taste it,” she pushes forth her plate generously. “It’s not that sharp.” I amiably decline, and we carry on with our meal and our happy chatter, catching up on personal news, sharing our thoughts on the universe, laughing over the most silly and most serious topics… and then I reach for the black pepper. Something about the closeness and carefree spirit in the air makes me feel invincible. Imitating Shoshana, I generously sprinkle black pepper over my food (albeit not to the extent she did, but I’ll say it was a respectable second-place) and take another bite. And then the magic happens. As the black pepper touches my palate, I cease to taste the heat of the spice and I taste only the warmth and trust of our friendship. Somehow, black pepper has lost its overwhelmingly ominous burn in the face of the one who introduced me to it. Ever since then, I no longer taste black pepper but the memory of our friendship. ~ ~ ~ Sometimes, I see regular people who have been dealt horrific blows in life; they are suddenly or constantly sent grief, loss, and pain: utter blackness. And yet, they lift their heads high and march on, lighting up the world with song, joy, and purpose as if it is Sugar that’s been spilled all over them, not Black Pepper. Now I understand how these people can smile through their searing pain. If they would look only at the bottom line, the dark situation in front of them, they would surely collapse from the intensity. But because they focus on the One who dished it out, because they connect with the love of the One always in front of them, they don’t taste blackness but sweetness. Same spice; new taste. May we speedily merit the day when we all receive our sweetness clearly and directly always! Chava Isacovitch delights in uncovering Hashem behind and beneath every facet of life. She writes and lectures on a variety of topics and is the author of Aharon's Staff: Practical Chinuch Tips from Chassidus. She also coaches parents and teachers of children with behavioral challenges. Chava lives in Eretz Yisroel.
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