April 18, 2024
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When Life Hands You a Carrot: Not Just Surviving but Thriving

Mike Yurosek had a problem. As the owner and operator of one of the largest carrot farms in California, Mike found himself throwing out almost 400 tons of carrots every day. Carrots that may have tasted good but were twisted and knobby-looking. While there was nothing technically wrong with these misshapen carrots, Mike knew that they wouldn’t sell in grocery stores, so he had to throw them out. After devotedly planting and tending to his carrots for months, he was devastated by the painful loss.

Then, he had an idea. Using an industrial potato peeler, Mike transformed the misshapen carrots into clean, bright, adorable, and perfect-for-snacking mini carrots. And with that, a supermarket staple was born! Over 30 years later, the baby carrot business is booming with many consumers preferring the baby carrot over other vegetables.

How did Mike Yurosek, the father of the baby carrot, get there? What enabled him to problem-solve and discover a new invention? And more importantly, how does this relate to educating our children?

There is a pasuk in Sefer Micha that I believe answers this question. “Even though I have fallen, I will get up; even though I sit in darkness, Hashem is my light” (Micha 7:8).

The Midrash explains that the pasuk should be understood as, “Had I not fallen, I would not have gotten up. Had I not sat in darkness, I would not have seen that Hashem is my light.”

Micha, one of Trei Assar, prophesied during the period of the first Beit HaMikdash during the reigns of Kings Yasom, Achaz and Chizkiyahu. While the earlier part of his sefer foretells the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and reprimands Bnei Yisrael for their idolatry, the above pasuk from the later part of his sefer offers words of comfort that are still relevant to us today. What enables a person to rise, to grow stronger, is precisely the fall. What facilitates connection to Hashem is exactly the darkness. Because of it. Not despite it. The challenge becomes the catalyst for growth.

We are all familiar with resilience. It has become quite a popular word, especially in a post-pandemic era. The technical definition of resilience is the ability to bounce back in response to pressure. However, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, mathematical statistician, former risk analyst and professor at NYU, explores in his book “Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” what it might look like if, instead of just bouncing back, we actually grow stronger. He writes, “The resilient resists shock and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better.” This notion of post-traumatic growth, that people harmed by past events can surpass themselves, is at the core of Resilience 2.0. Or as they say in Latin, artificia docuit fames, sophistication is born out of hunger. Or when life hands you a carrot…

At the recent Prizmah conference in Denver for over 1,000 Jewish educators, noted Harvard happiness professor Tal Ben-Shachar shared that the Hebrew word for crisis, משבר, is also the word for a birthing stool. You can break down in a crisis, or you can transform and emerge stronger, having brought new life into the world. Anti-fragility is Resilience 2.0. Had I not fallen, I would not have gotten up. Had I not sat in darkness, I would not have seen that Hashem is my light.

Ben-Shachar suggests that the key to developing anti fragility is twofold. First, actively accept unhappiness. Identify unpleasant emotions and make space for them. Recognize that sadness, frustration, and even boredom, can generate a crack that enables the light to shine through. And second, learn to manage the stress that comes along with these emotions. Exercise. Get more sleep. Do a chesed for a neighbor or friend.

Our greatest leaders in Jewish history became great not despite their challenges but because of them. What was the purpose of the 10 tests Avraham faced throughout his lifetime? Why did he need to leave his family, his home and his country behind? Why did his wife get captured by a powerful king, not once but twice? Why did he have to face the painful prospect of sacrificing his beloved firstborn son? The Ramban famously remarks that every test in the Torah is for the benefit of the one being tested. It transforms the individual’s internal strength from the potential to the actual. And in so doing, it uncovers the most precious treasures buried deep within a person.

As Susan Cain writes in her bestselling book, “Bittersweet”: “Bittersweetness is a quiet force, a way of being, a storied tradition—as dramatically overlooked as it is brimming with human potential. It’s an authentic and elevating response to the problem of being alive in a deeply flawed yet stubbornly beautiful world. Most of all, bittersweetness shows us how to respond to pain: by acknowledging it, and attempting to turn it into art, the way the musicians do, or healing, or innovation, or anything else that nourishes the soul.” Embracing the bittersweetness of a sunset or of our children growing older is what makes us whole.

We have to help our children not only learn to face challenges, but to embrace them. We have to allow them to sit in the discomfort and make space for it as we sit right beside them and hold them. We have to support them in developing their internal strength to lean into struggle because we don’t just want them to survive. We want them to thrive.


Dr. Bethany Strulowitz is the principal of Bruriah High School and Middle School.

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