Don't Take Too Much.
Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )
Sometimes trying to take too much leaves us with nothing at all. In this week's portion - the first in the Torah - God gave Adam and Eve, the first human beings, a wonderful garden full of all sorts of pleasures. He told them they could enjoy everything they wanted except for the fruit of one certain tree. Yet they chose to break that rule and as a result had to leave the garden and everything behind. The lesson we can learn from this is that rules and limits are many times for our best good.
In our story, a kid finds out that sometimes by taking less we end up with more.
Dan gave a quick glance over his shoulder as he scooped the last three cookies out of the box and quickly popped them into his mouth. Sure his mom had said 'no cookies between meals' and sure his dad had told him that he had to share the last three treats with his brother and sister, but - well, Dan didn't really like taking 'no' for an answer and liked to do whatever he felt like doing.
Besides, today he had a good reason to celebrate. It was his birthday, after all. That meant a party, pizza, and most of all - presents! And the one present he had been waiting for most of all was the scale-model electric-powered ride-in racecar he'd asked his grandparents for and had been delivered to his house in a big cardboard crate the day before. Dan couldn't wait for his dad to finish setting it up, so he could turn his neighbors' eyes green with jealously as he sped around the block.
"Okay, sport!" called his dad from the garage where he'd been working on Dan's car. It was ready!!! The boy swallowed his mouthful of cookies in a quick gulp and ran out excitedly, to find his smiling father holding a shiny silver and red driving helmet in his hand.
"Here you go, birthday boy!" he said, handing him the helmet. Dan took it and jumped into the car. "Go have a blast - just a couple of rules first." Dan winced. He hated rules. "Number one, you can only ride it on the sidewalk. And number two, it says in the instructions that it can't go in water - that means you can't drive it through puddles, got it?"
"Yeah, okay Dad, no problem. Um, can I go now?"
His father had barely said the word 'yes' when the boy had turned on the power and cruised down the driveway.
Wow, this is great! thought Dan as he zipped around the sidewalk, honking his loud horn to get people to move out of his way, as well as making sure he got neighborhood kids' attention.
He saw a nearly empty parking lot. Why not? True, it isn't a sidewalk, he thought, but it's close enough. And besides, here I can really let it rip, with no one to slow me down.
He sped along the pavement and suddenly saw a huge, shiny puddle up ahead of him. Would it ever be cool to splash up water from both sides! Dan started heading right toward it, when he remembered his dad's 'no puddles' rule.
Dumb rules, he thought, Why can't I ride wherever I want? I'm gonna fly right through this puddle and I don't care what anyone says!
Dan pushed the accelerator to full speed. "Yeahhh!!" he yelled as he hit the puddle with a big splash. This is great - who needs rules and limits! he thought as the car moved on, leaving a wake of water behind it.
Suddenly the car stopped right in the middle of the puddle.
Dan tried to restart the motor - but no luck. The thing was dead. No movement, no engine, the horn didn't even work!
With no choice, the boy climbed out of the car into the cold, ankle-deep water and pushed.
Finally, after what felt like forever, he had pushed the car all the way back to his garage, past the smirking neighborhood kids who now looked anything but jealous.
"Well Dan - it seems the water from the puddle has shorted out the motor and damaged the batteries," his dad told him with a sober look. "This won't be covered by the warranty either, because like I said, the instructions said no puddles. So, I'm afraid to tell you, sport, that it looks like your first race-car ride was also your last."
Dan was hopping mad - at his dad - at the car - at the puddle, but ... most of all, at himself. If he had only listened to the one simple rule he'd still be going around in style instead of by foot. Maybe some rules made sense, after all.
Q. How did Dan feel about rules at first?
A. He hated them and did whatever he wanted to do.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how not listening to the 'no puddle' rule ruined his car and realized that obeying rules could sometimes make things turn out better.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Dan learned that day?
A. He had seen rules and limits as only something that held him back from enjoying life, but he learned that sometimes they could help him enjoy life more.
Q. Why do you think that is?
A. Almost all good things can only be enjoyed with rules and limits. For instance, imagine a baseball game without rules - the batter wouldn't leave the batter's box until he got a hit. The runners would skip bases … it would be chaos - and boring. Only by doing things in an orderly way - with rules and limits - can we really get the most out of life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think life would be better if there were no rules or laws and everyone could do whatever he wanted? Why or why not?
A. It sounds like a dream - but it would really be a nightmare. It is human nature for one person to take what he wants, even at someone else's expense, and without rules and limits the world would soon fall apart.
Q. The Torah has been described as 'instructions for living'. What do you think this means, and why do you think this might be valuable?
A. Life is the ultimate game - the ultimate challenge. It is potentially amazing and wonderful and potentially the opposite. There is no way that the loving God would plunk us down into life, with all of its complexities and not give us a set of instructions how to maximize the experience. This is the Written and Oral Torah. The Torah gives us just the right balance of options and limits in every area of life to make the most of our trip through it and get to a great place afterwards, too.