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How to Excel


Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Who wouldn't love to excel - to experience and achieve more than most people ever do? It sounds exciting - and fun. Excelling requires making a commitment to a goal, and being ready to accept the responsibilities and restrictions necessary to get there. The Kohanim, or Jewish priests, were the 'elite force' in the Holy Temple, who got to do and see amazing things that nobody else could. Yet with their privileges came the responsibility of maintaining a higher level of discipline than the rest of the Jewish people - in what they could eat, wear, and do. They understood, and we can too, that the greater a person wants to become, the more disciplined he must be to get there.


In our story, a boy shows his friends what it takes to excel.


Stride ... huff ... stride ... Hal Landers breathed hard but steadily as his feet rhythmically hit the pavement as he dug his way up the steep hill. Hal was the captain of the Middletown Day School track team and he was training for the upcoming inter-state meet, where he would be representing his school in the grueling 5000 meter cross-country race.

Though his muscles ached, the boy pushed himself on. He knew from experience that these pains meant his legs were growing stronger, and would bring him to a new level of running excellence.

Just as he reached the top of the hill and turned the corner, Hal was surprised by the honking of a car horn. Looking up, he saw his friends Barry and Pete parked by the side of the road. "Hey Hal," Barry yelled out, "Where ya running to? Come rest a while and join us for an ice cream. My treat!"

Although Hal was happy to see his friends, he knew that eating ice cream was the last thing he could be doing now. His strict diet and disciplined training schedule was rigorous, but it gave Hal just the fuel he needed to become one of the premier runners in the state.

"Sorry guys" he said with a smile. "Ice cream isn't on my diet this week."

Hal's buddies looked at their slim-trim friend and then at each other. "You don't look like you belong on a diet to me," said Pete, "but have it your way. C'mon out with us anyway and shoot the breeze for a while."

Hal looked at his watch and frowned. He knew that getting to sleep early was a crucial part of his training regimen. "Sounds great but its almost my curfew. I've gotta get home."

Barry's eyes popped open. "Such an early curfew? Boy, are your parents tough!"

"You don't get it!" Hal laughed. "I put myself on the curfew and the diet so I'll have what it takes to win the big race on Tuesday."

His friends had to admit that Hal's efforts had paid off. He was the best runner to come out of Middletown in years. But still, they had to ask, "Is it really worth it, Hal? All the effort and discipline?"

Hal didn't miss a beat. "No question about it. The feeling I get when I'm running fast, when I win a race is unbelievable. It's not always easy, but like coach says 'no pain - no gain.' If I want to really be good, I can't just take it easy like everyone else. No offense guys, I'd love to hang out with you longer - but I've gotta run!"


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Hal feel when his friends invited him to join them?
A. Even thought he would have liked to, he knew it was more important to stick to his training plan.

Q. How would you feel if you parents told you that you could stay up for something extra special, but only if you took a nap first?
A. Although you might prefer not to take a nap, you know it's worth it to get to stay up late.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why do you think that Hal wouldn't take a short break from his training to hang out with his friends?
A. Hal had a goal. He wanted to excel and become a top runner. Even though he would have enjoyed spending more time with his friends, he realized that to reach his goal he had to stay disciplined, even if it required sacrificing something he liked to do.

Q. If its more comfortable to just take it easy, why would a person want to give it up and work hard at something?
A. There are different levels of pleasure. While there is a certain pleasure to be had in taking it easy, it doesn't even compare to the greater pleasure we feel when we accomplish something important. Even though getting there almost always takes a serious effort, successful people who excel have discovered the secret that the gain is worth the pain.

Q. Can you think of time when you put in a tremendous amount of effort to accomplish something?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. The sages of the Talmud tell us, "If someone tells you he has searched and he has found - believe him. If he says he has searched yet has not found - don't believe him. If he says that he hasn't searched and he hasn't found - believe him. If he says that he hasn't searched yet he has found - don't believe him." What does this mean, and what life-lesson can we learn from here?
A. This wise saying teaches us an important life principle: you can't reach important goals unless you put in the necessary effort. Truly valuable things don't simply come easily on their own. Knowing this is a valuable tool to motivate a person to persevere until he makes his dream into reality.

Q. Must a person excel? Is there anything wrong with being mediocre?
A. To really excel in a deeper sense means to use our full potential and become the best person that we can be. This is life's most worthwhile goal and within the reach of everyone. Failing to strive for excellence in this area would be a loss of a tremendous opportunity to fulfill our lives' spiritual task.

Q. Can you think of time when you put in a tremendous amount of effort to accomplish something?


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