Test of Character
Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )
It's a nice feeling to be able to get the things we want. But it's also a test of character. How are we going to react to our good fortune? God loves us and wants to give us good things, but He also wants us to develop an attitude of gratitude. Having plenty can make a person feel conceited, forgetting to be grateful to God, who ultimately has given him whatever he has. It can even cause someone to act like he's better than someone who doesn't have as much as he does.
Our Torah portion this week reminds us that whatever good we have is a gift from God. Let's enjoy what we have - without letting it go to our heads.
In our story, a boy teaches his friends to be grateful and not haughty about what they have.
David Solomon's sleek new state-of-the-art "Ultima-bike" was the talk of the neighborhood. With the strength of a mountain bike, the speed of a racer, and a day-glow paint job that made it look like a streak of light cruising down the road.
Soon the other boys in the neighborhood just had to have one, and followed David's lead. They pleaded with their parents for the expensive new bike, and soon almost everyone seemed to be riding an "Ultima" of his own.
Stuart Freed, who lived in an apartment house at the end of the street, came home one day and asked his parents if he could also get the bike.
His father sighed and answered, "Stuart, I know how much you want a new bicycle like your friends, but right now money is pretty tight and we just can't afford it. I'm afraid you'll just have to make do with your old bike for the time being."
Stuart understood, but was disappointed. His old three-speeder looked so clunky compared to the sleek new bicycles all his friends seemed to be suddenly riding.
The next day when David invited him to join him and some other guys on a bike trip, Stuart hesitated. He felt embarrassed to be seen with his old bike, but David encouraged him and at last Stuart agreed. "Great!" David said. "We're all meeting at 3:00 in the school parking lot. See you there!"
When he got there, Stuart cringed. There were five boys gathered, all of them on brand new Ultima-bikes ... except for Stuart.
Joey, one of the guys, quipped, "Hey Stuart, your bike looks like it's ready for the junkyard. You sure you're gonna make it?"
Some of the other guys started to laugh, but David quickly cut them off. Shaking his head, he walked over to boy who made the joke. "Joey, that wasn't funny," he said sternly. "Just because you've got a new bike and he doesn't isn't any reason to put him down. It's one thing to feel happy about having a new bike - I do too - but that doesn't make us any better than somebody who doesn't have one. And it certainly doesn't give us the right to hurt anybody's feelings ... does it?"
Joey was silent. It was obvious that David's point had hit home, and he felt bad about what he had said. Then, to break the tension, David turned to the tall, strong, Stuart and said loudly with a big smile, "Anyway, the way this guy can ride, he'd probably ride circles around us even if we were on motorcycles and he was on a roller skate!"
This time, everybody laughed, including Stuart. And with that, the friends all took off down the road on their way to a good time.
Q. Did Joey do the right thing when he teased Stuart about his old bike?
A. No, we shouldn't put people down if we have something they don't.
Q. How did Stuart feel when Joey said what he did?
A. He felt very hurt and embarrassed.
Q. How did he feel after David spoke up for him?
A. He felt much better since David said something nice about him. He felt accepted even though he didn't have a new bike.
Q. Why do you think that someone who has more than somebody else would want to put the other person down?
A. It's easy to confuse a person's value with the value of his possessions. "Since I have more, I must be better than him." This could tempt a person to act conceited and insult others. We should try to remember that everything we have is only a gift from God and therefore there is no reason to feel like it makes us somehow better than the next guy. God gives everybody just what he or she needs to accomplish his or her mission in life. It has nothing to do with who is "better" or "worse." Every human being has infinite value just because he or she is a person created by God.
Q. In our story Joey tried to make Stuart feel bad, and David tried to make him feel good. Who do you think had more self-confidence, Joey or David? Why?
A. David. When a person feels good about himself he naturally wants to make other people feel good too. But when someone starts putting others down, usually it's because he's not so happy about who he himself is, and tries to lower others in order to make himself look good.
Q. Can you think of something you're really grateful to have?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you say that if somebody worked hard to earn his money or possessions, he has the right to feel proud of himself and even to feel superior to those who didn't work as hard as he?
A. While being hard-working is certainly an admirable trait, still it is important to remember that everything we have, or have accomplished is ultimately a gift from God. He gave us the strength and the tenacity to work hard, gifts that perhaps others lack. Also, our success is only in God's hands. Many people may work as hard or even harder than we did, yet not succeed. It's important to feel grateful and take pleasure in our success. But its not a reason to look down on others.
Q. Our sages teach us that a person should desire to be neither poor nor rich, but rather in the middle-class. Why do you think this is so? Do you agree?
A. Both poverty and wealth are difficult tests of a person's character. If one has too little, he can be tempted to steal from others. Having plenty could tempt a person to become conceited and forget that everything is a gift from God. Someone with just enough--but not too much, is most likely to succeed on a personal character level, which is the success that counts the most.
Q. Can you think of something you're really grateful to have?