Tzav (Leviticus 6-8 )
We can't see them but a person's thoughts are very powerful. In fact, the way we think about the things in our lives is the main thing that determines whether we're going to be happy or not. In this week's Torah portion, we learn that in the times of the Tabernacle, even if one of the Kohanim, a Jewish priest, would complete one of his complicated tasks perfectly, if he didn't think the proper thoughts at the time, he would have to do it all over again. We can learn to become aware of our thoughts and to use them properly to make ourselves a happy life.
In our story, a boy discovers how the right kind of thinking can turn everything around.
Danny Sharp was delighted to wake up and see the white blanket of snow covering the ground. He loved these late season surprise snowstorms that gave him a day off from school and another chance to sled down the rolling hills that surrounded his neighborhood. According to the weather report, there was even going to be another storm by tomorrow. He was just dragging his old but reliable Flexible Flyer sled across the road when he ran into his good buddy, Ron, trudging along the snowy sidewalk, shovel slung over his shoulder.
"Hey Ron, how's it going? Wanna come sledding with me?" asked Danny with a friendly smile.
But Ron just gave him back a frown, and shook his head with a look on his face that seemed colder than the chilly breeze. "Who has time to go sledding? I've still got a ton of work to do. I've done two driveways already, and still have another three to go."
Danny nodded as he remembered that his friend worked shoveling out neighbors' driveways on these snowy days to save up money for a special racing bike he wanted.
Ron continued. "This wet spring snow weighs a ton. No wonder all the neighbors hired me. Boy does it makes my muscles ache. I'm on my way now to old Mr. Klinger's house. Do you know how long his driveway is? And if it won't take me long enough to do, his wife always makes me stop in the middle to eat or drink something - I'll be there forever."
Danny felt bad for his upset friend. Trying to cheer him up, he made a snowball and playfully lobbed it in his direction. Ron ducked out of the way, and half-heartedly tossed back a big wet snowball that plunked Danny right between the eyes.
"Okay, you win," Danny laughed as he took a handkerchief out of pocket to wipe the snow off his glasses.
"Sorry about that," Ron said. "I didn't mean to mess up your glasses."
"That's okay - they needed cleaning anyway." He held out the cloth to his friend. "Here, why don't you clean off your glasses while we're at it?"
Ron looked puzzled. "What are you talking about, Dan? I think the snow's gotten to your brain. I don't even wear glasses."
"Oh yes you do," he answered. "Everyone does. The way we think about things are our 'glasses' to the world. I learned in my Torah class the other day that a person's thoughts have more to do with his happiness than anything else does. If we try to think of how things are good - we'll feel good. If we think they're bad - we'll feel bad. I'm sorry you're having such a hard day. So maybe if you cleaned your thought-glasses and tried to see things differently, you'd feel better."
But Ron just scoffed. "Glasses or no glasses, thoughts or no thoughts, nothing's gonna change. I'm having a rotten day and that's it. I'll see you later, I've got to get back to my slavery," he said as he trudged on.
Sure enough, that night, as predicted, another half a foot of snow fell in the area, and again Danny headed out for the hills with his sled. He had hardly gotten out the door when he heard some happy whistling. He looked up to see his friend, Ron, nearly skipping down the sidewalk, smiling ear to ear. Maybe he had taken the day off and could join him sledding.
"Want to come along, Ron?" he asked.
"Who has time?" the boy answered cheerfully. "I'm too busy earning my racing bike. I've made a ton of money already today, and when I finish the three more driveways on my list, I'll have almost all I need to get the bike! Not only that, but I'm getting a great workout. Because the snow's so heavy, I get to really stretch my muscles, so by biking season, I'll be in tip-top shape. Now I'm on my way to Mr. Klinger's house. He has a big long driveway, which means plenty of cash. But more than that, I know I'm really helping them out - they're older people, and could never do it themselves. Mrs. Klinger is so nice, too. She makes sure I take care of myself and drink enough, and always has something delicious waiting for me to eat, to keep up my strength. I'd love to join you, but I'm having too good a time to stop."
Danny was amazed. Was this the same kid he spoke to just a day before? "Wow Ron, it looks like you're having a much better day than yesterday."
Ron blushed. "Yeah, I hate to admit it Danny, but you were right. I tried to think about things differently - and it worked! I guess I really did need a new pair of 'glasses' after all to see what was right in front of my eyes the whole time."
Q. How did Ron feel when Danny first suggested to him to try to look at things differently?
A. He didn't believe that it would make any difference, and that he had to feel bad.
Q. How did he feel the next day?
A. Though the same things happened to him, he felt much happier about them, and saw that the way he looked at, and thought about things really did make a big difference.
Q. Ron had a much better day the second day in the story than the first. What changed?
A. On the outside, almost nothing: two snowy days, two days of hard work. But on the inside everything changed. Ron was able to suddenly see all the good in what was happening, whereas before he could only focus on the negative, and thinking about it differently was enough to change his feelings entirely.
Q. Do you think that it could work the other way around - that someone could have something great happen to him, like winning the lottery, and not be happy because of his thoughts?
A. Definitely. Maybe he'd worry about someone stealing it, or all the taxes he'd have to pay, etc. It might seem funny, but it's really true, our happiness or sadness almost totally depends on how we think about things. It's very worthwhile to start from right now to try to look at everything with a positive eye.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is it possible to be objective and react to things simply according to the facts instead of being swayed by our thoughts and feelings about them?
A. Every incident has two facets: the facts, and how we choose to interpret them. To understand anything, one must put what he observes into a context, and that only comes through interpretation. Often two people can have the same experience, be certain they are being objective, and still come out with two opposite conclusions. One of the major benefits of studying Torah is that within it, God reveals His way of seeing things, which is the only objective reality there is. The more deeply we understand the Torah, the more able we are to see things from God's perspective.
Q. Does the way that we think about people affect them in any way?
A. It is obvious how a person's actions affect the world, and even his words. Thoughts, although undetectable to our physical senses, also have a very real impact on the world. The Torah asks us to think positively, and by doing so we can make the world a better place.