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The Power of Motivation

Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

When a person is motivated by a goal, he feels like he can do anything. And when he isn't motivated, the simplest tasks can seem impossible. Motivation is the feeling we have inside when we are doing something that is bringing us toward what we really want or value.

In our Torah portion, Jacob, our patriarch, found out that before he could marry Rachel, the woman he loved, he would have to work for her cruel father, Laban, for seven long years. Yet the Torah reveals to us that Jacob felt so motivated by the goal of marrying Rachel that the work only felt to him as if it took a few days! Once we learn to focus on goals and harness the power of motivation, we can use it to bring the best out of ourselves and others.


In our story, two brothers learn to tap into the power of motivation.


It had been one snowy winter! It seemed like as soon as one snowstorm would end, the next one would begin. Like most kids in the neighborhood, Jack and Jeremy Cooper loved it. They had already had gotten a few 'free' days off from school, and the hill behind their house had transformed into the neighborhood sled and toboggan super raceway that just got faster and faster with each passing snowfall.

The boys felt there was only one big frustration about the whole thing - shoveling the driveway. Even though they knew it had to be done so their mom could get her car out to drive to work, the boys hated the job. Each shovel-full of the heavy, wet snow felt like it weighed a ton, and finishing off the steep, curving driveway just seemed to take forever.

So, when Jack and Jeremy woke up and found they had been blasted with another foot of snow overnight, they nearly sunk in despair. "Oh no, here we go again," moaned Jeremy.

Dutifully the guys zipped up their parkas and strapped on their boots, ready to begin their dreaded task. They slowly began to pick, chop and scrape away at the white blanket and felt like they were getting nowhere fast.

Their mom looked out sympathetically at the two miserable boys and called them over to the front door. "Tough going, huh, guys?" she asked gently.

The brothers nodded.

"Well," said Mrs. Cooper, "maybe I can help make the job a little more pleasant. First of all, here is some nice, hot cocoa to help you stay warm, and secondly I have a suggestion that might just help the shoveling go a bit better."

The boys eagerly sipped the warm, sweet cocoa as their mother continued. "When I have to do something I don't really enjoy, I try to set a goal for myself which helps me to feel more motivated. So instead of just pushing it around, how about using all that snow you're shoveling to build a great, big snow fort?"

Jack and Jeremy looked at each other. They didn't really understand what building snow forts had to do with enjoying shoveling snow but figured it might be worth a try since they were stuck doing it either way. They finished their mugs of cocoa and headed back to work.

Jack and Jeremy started piling up the shovels full of snow from the driveway to form a low wall off to the side, but their hearts weren't in it. But little by little, the fort began to take shape and they felt themselves getting more excited. "Hey this is pretty cool!" said Jack as he piled on another brick onto the wall nearly as high as his head.

"Yeah! Hurry up, let's bring some more snow for the entrance way!" Jeremy exclaimed.

Soon the guys were moving at top speed, piling on layer after layer onto what was soon becoming a real snow palace. They hardly noticed that the big driveway was fast becoming totally empty of snow.

A few minutes later Mrs. Cooper came out to warm up her car in the garage and was pleased to find a clear driveway, a magnificent snow fort and two brightly smiling sons. "Wow boys, you're done in record time. Thanks a lot!"

Jack and Jeremy beamed. "Thank you, Mom. Once you helped us turn 'driveway clearing' into 'fort building' it was all smooth sailing," said Jack.

"But there was only one problem," added Jeremy.

"And what's that?" asked his mom.

"It's too bad the driveway isn't any longer so we could build an even bigger snow fort!"


Ages 3-5

Q. How did the boys feel when they first started shoveling the driveway?
A. They felt bored and put upon to do a job they didn't enjoy.

Q. How did they feel differently after listening to their mom, and building a snow-fort?
A. The whole job became much more fun, because they had a goal they wanted to fulfill.

Ages 6-9

Q. The boys still had to put the same effort into shoveling the snow. Why was it so much easier for the boys to shovel the driveway after deciding to build the fort?
A. Up until then, shoveling the snow had always been for them a boring, and basically meaningless task. All they focused on was the effort and pain in shoveling. But once they started to build the fort, they had a goal that they were into. Each shovel-full became another step closer to that goal. This gave them a lot of motivation and made the time fly by since they were now focusing on the fun in building a fort.

Q. What else could motivate a person besides having fun?
A. Other types of motivators could include: knowing that something is the ethically right thing to do, or perhaps a real desire to help others. Many people feel motivated to do things to earn rewards or avoid unpleasant consequences. The common denominator is that a person clearly feels that it's worth his while to be doing what he's doing.

Q. Can you think of a time you were really motivated to do something? What motivated you?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. How does being motivated with a goal help a person to get more done, and have more fun?
A. Human beings naturally strive to have meaning in their lives and in the things they do. Nothing energizes a person more than a sense of purpose, and nothing weakens him more than a feeling of purposelessness. Having a goal in mind infuses a given activity with meaning, which in turn allows a person to enjoy what he's doing and succeed.

Q. Are all goals created equal? Does it make a difference what motivates a person as long as he's motivated?
A. Life is more about just accomplishing whatever goal you set your mind to. We live in a meaning-filled world with God-given spiritual values. A criminal may be very motivated, but that doesn't put him on the same level as, say, a sincerely motivated special-ed teacher. The first step is to figure out which goals are truly worth striving toward, and then using them to motivate yourself to the max.

Q. Can you think of a time you were really motivated to do something? What motivated you?


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