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Special Strengths

Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

We all have things we are extra good at as well as things that don't come easily to us. One of the reasons that God made people this way is to give all of us a chance to help each other out. Each of us is able to use his particular strength to help someone else compensate for his weakness. This is exactly what two of our forefather Jacob's sons, Issachar and Zevulun did. Zevulun was a great businessman. He used his skills and some of the profits he earned to help support his brother Issachar, a great and wise scholar who was more at home in the study hall than in the marketplace. In turn Issachar shared with his brother the wisdom he had learned and helped Zevulun to experience things he would never have been able to otherwise. We can learn from here how much everybody gains when each of us puts our special strengths to work in helping others.


In our story two very different boys find a way to help each other out.


"The teacher might as well be speaking Chinese," thought Jack with a sigh as he scratched his head underneath his baseball cap. Jack Stone squirmed in his seat. He was a big muscular boy and could hardly fit into the seat. Jack was the starting center fielder of the school baseball team. On the ball field he felt right at home but the classroom was a different story.

Some of his buddies from the team tried to get him to laugh it off and make out like schoolwork was some kind of joke that didn't matter. But Jack really wanted to understand. Underneath all of his muscle and tough-talk was a curious boy with a thirst for knowledge. Each day he would try to pay attention to the teacher's lessons but after a few minutes his mind would just go blank.

Jack used to watch Morris Lerner, the class "brain," get more and more excited as the class progressed. The short, skinny boy would sometimes jump up to ask a question and his thick glasses would almost fall off of his face. A lot of the kids would laugh, but not Jack. He wished he could also understand and share in the boy's enthusiasm.

One day Jack was walking home from school when he saw what looked like a scuffle on the other side of the street. On closer inspection he realized that a couple of guys had tripped Morris and caused him to drop all of his notebooks, which had scattered onto the sidewalk. Jack ran across the street, shaking his big fist. The kids who had attacked Morris quickly ran away at the sight of him. Morris, fighting back tears, was slowly trying to gather up his fallen papers. Jack bent down to help him.

"Those guys are jerks!" Jack said angrily. Morris looked up gratefully at his rescuer. The two boys, who lived on the same block started to walk home. Jack noticed that Morris' nose was bleeding a bit. "Hey, are you okay?" asked Jack.

Morris managed a weak smile. "Oh it's nothing," he said. "When I tripped my glasses cut my nose a bit," he added, dabbing his finger onto the trickle of blood. "You know it's funny, we were just learning about blood in biology class today..." He went on and began to explain to Jack all about blood, why it was red, how it flowed, etc. Jack was fascinated. But more than that, he was amazed that he actually understood. Morris had a way of making the most difficult things sound simple.

Before they knew it the boys were home. The interesting discussion had made the time pass quickly. As Morris was about to walk up the steps of his building Jack stopped him. "Waddya say that from now on we walk to school together, there and back? You can tell me about more of those interesting things from class and I ..."

"And you," cut in Morris with a big smile, "You can make sure that we get there safely, right?"

"Exactly!" beamed Jack. And from that day on, the unlikely walking partners became best friends.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jack feel when he would sit in school?
A. He wished there was some way he could understand the teacher's lessons.

Q. How did Jack and Morris feel after they decided to walk to school together?
A. They felt glad they had done it. Now Morris could help Jack with his lessons, and Jack could protect Morris from the mean kids.

Ages 6-9

Q. What is gained when people share their talents and strengths with others?
A. Each of us has special talents and strengths as well as areas of weakness. For instance in the story, Jack was a big strong boy who could fend off bullies. Yet he found it difficult to learn. Morris was a genius with a gift of explaining things, yet he was physically weak and vulnerable. The two boys shared their talents, Jack protecting Morris and Morris teaching Jack. When people share their talents they both gain in areas that would be impossible for them to accomplish by themselves.

Q. How can we start to do this?
A. The first step is to sincerely consider what our talents and strengths are. What do we have to offer the world? Next we should consider in which areas might we need strengthening? Then we can begin to seek ways of helping others who could benefit from what we have to offer. And although we should be open to receiving the help that is offered us, it is a much higher level if we can give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.

Q. Are you friendly with anyone who is very different than you?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. The Torah teaches us to "Love your fellow man as you love yourself." On a practical level, how would doing that change our interactions with people and affect the world in general?
A. Truly loving each other as ourselves means that we care about other people's needs and are as willing to take actions on their behalf with just as much energy and enthusiasm as we would for our own needs. Many of the world's problems and the hardships of individuals stem from the fact that people feel that they have to 'go it alone' and only look out for their own needs and perhaps those of their most immediate circle. If every one of us were truly and unselfishly concerned about everyone else, no one would lack anything physically or emotionally. While this is an extremely high spiritual level and may not be accomplished overnight, it is certainly a goal to be aware of and to strive towards.

Q. Can you think of any benefits in having weaknesses?
A. It might seem ideal that each person would have every talent and strength and lack nothing. However if it were so, people would miss out on a very significant opportunity for personal growth. One of our main spiritual tasks in life is to become more kind and giving people. If no one lacked anything, there would be no one to give to. God also created each person's weakness so as to enable others to grow by striving to fulfill them.

Q. Are you friendly with anyone who is very different than you?


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