Keep Your Distance

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

Certain things we just know aren't good for us, but we're tempted to do them anyhow. Is there any way to keep ourselves in control? This week's Torah portion teaches a valuable tool to help us succeed.

It tells us about a nazir -- a person who decided that it wasn't good for him to drink any wine and who therefore made a vow not to do it. But once he did so, not only did he avoid wine, but even grape juice, vinegar, or any other grape product. Human nature is such that we can easily slip when we are around something close to what we want to avoid. And this is why the nazir stayed away from any grape drink even though he really only wanted to avoid wine. We can learn from this to make "protective fences" in our own lives to help us live the way we want to and stay away from the things that aren't good for us.


In our story, two boys learn why it makes sense to keep distance from some things...


Gary and Jon considered themselves a self-appointed spy team. Their mission was to explore every nook and cranny of the "Easy Acres" bungalow colony where they were spending the summer with their family.

They discovered old tucked away stacks of lounge-chairs, a huge lost-and-found pile that seemed to have been started 20 years earlier, and countless other hidden treasures on the various "spy operations."

Their dad seemed amused by their "missions," but he warned them not to get into anything dangerous.

One morning the boys stumbled upon their greatest discovery of the summer. While playing ping-pong in the recreation hall, Gary spotted what looked like a doorway tucked behind a group of stacked up tables. With a conspiratorial look he signaled to his brother and pointed. Jon got the message right away and then when no one was looking the boys snuck into the corner. They tested the door, found that it was unlocked, and discovered pay dirt.

It was an unknown secret entrance to the colony's indoor swimming pool! It was right in the middle of the "No Swimming" hours and not a soul was around. The boys made their way into the dimly lit complex when Jon tapped his brother on the shoulder. "Okay, let's get out of here," he said.

"Why?" asked Gary, eyeing the huge pool. "We've only begun to spy!" he smiled.

"I'm serious," said Jon. "There are signs all over the place that say no one's allowed in this area during "No Swimming" hours. What about what dad said? We could get in trouble, or worse."

But Gary wouldn't relent. "All they care about is that nobody goes into the pool, and we're not, are we?" Jon shrugged. "So why should we have to stay out of the whole area? Maybe the pool is dangerous but the area around it isn't. What's wrong if we just spy around a bit? Hey, come see this diving board, it looks brand new!"

The boys climbed out onto the board. Sure enough it was new, so new that it hadn't been properly fastened onto the pool yet.


The weight of the boys caused it to tip them right into the pool. Fortunately they were both good swimmers and they scrambled out of the pool, scared but okay.

Without bothering to check if the coast was clear, they ran back out the "secret" door they had come in through. But to the boys' dismay they practically ran smack into a group of adults, including their father and the lifeguard who had just come in to the recreation hall.

Sure enough, the "spies" were caught and sentenced to a week of no swimming.

That week ended up being the hottest of the summer. As they sat outside the pool area and heard the sounds of their friends having some nice cool fun, they learned a big lesson in how to read the signs.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Gary feel when his brother told him that they should leave the swimming pool area?
A. He didn't want to leave. He felt since only the pool itself was dangerous, there wasn't any reason to leave the whole area.

Q. Is it okay just to get near something we know is dangerous?
A. No. We should keep our distance to be sure we don't get hurt.

Ages 6-9

Q. Imagine that if in our story the boys hadn't fallen into the pool and had snuck out safely without anyone noticing them. Do you think that would have proven that the rule of keeping out of the pool area was unreasonable? Why or why not?
A. Those who made the rule didn't assume that everyone who disobeyed was going to fall into the pool and get hurt. In fact, they realized that most people probably wouldn't. But since the risk was high and the potential consequences were so serious, they reasonably decided to make the rule as a protective fence to keep their campers safe.

Q. When we are considering doing something risky, how can we decide whether it is worth taking the chance or not?
A. In situations such as these, we can ask ourselves "What do I have to gain and what do I have to lose?" Often it becomes very clear whether the risk is worth it or not. Had the boys in the story asked themselves this question when deciding whether to spy out the pool area they would likely have decided not to since there was little to gain and much to lose.

Q. Can you think of anything important enough to you that you protect with a fence?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. The nazir chose to abstain from certain things in order to reach a higher spiritual level which would bring him greater pleasure. How can it be that restrictions are able to bring pleasure?
A. We all have goals -- things we know will give us the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. However, along the way, there are often temptations that can sidetrack us. It can be that if we give in to these, we will never reach our real goal. So we wisely choose to restrict ourselves and abstain from these temptations as a way to reach the greater pleasure of our genuine goal.

Q. Why would a person who wanted to abstain from wine have to give up eating grapes which aren't even alcoholic?
A. The human psyche can work in some very interesting ways. When there is something we clearly want to avoid, then even harmless things that are associated with it can draw us into doing that which we don't want to. It is not farfetched for a person's psyche to tell himself after eating a grape, "So what if I have some grape juice, they're just crushed grapes?" And then a while later, "Isn't wine just grape juice which has sat around and fermented?" And before he knows it, he's done exactly what he didn't want to. For this reason, the Torah asks us to "make fences" to help us to live the way we truly want to.

Q. Can you think of anything important enough to you that you protect with a fence?


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