Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )
Nobody likes dealing with bullies, but sometimes there is no choice in the matter. In this week's Torah portion, Jacob had to contend with the bullying of Esau. When a person faces a bully, it's important to stand tall on the inside and not let the bully lessen our self-esteem.
In our story, some kids see how much better things operate when they cooperate.
The yearly family get-together at their grandparents' farm was one of the best parts of Jeremy's autumn. Even though they didn't really raise animals, except for a few chickens, or grow much stuff there anymore, it was still a blast being able to freely explore and run around instead of having to stay cooped up indoors all the time like back home in the city.
He and his big brother, Ken, were the exact same ages as their cousins, Danny and Matt, which worked out great for Jeremy, since he could have fun playing with Danny, and Matt kept Ken too busy to bother Jeremy.
The guys were hanging around, drinking in the delicious smells pouring out of Grandma's kitchen, waiting impatiently for her to finally call them in for dinner, when Jeremy got an idea.
"Hey, Danny, why don't we ride those two old bikes out to the old apple tree on the other side of the pond and munch some fresh-picked apples while we're waiting for dinner?"
"Great idea!" Danny agreed. They walked over to the bikes, but before they could get on them, they each felt a big push.
"You bet that was a great idea!" chuckled Jeremy's big brother, Ken. "Too bad it's us who are going to use it and not you. C'mon, Matt, let's go stock up on apples. If these squirts are lucky, maybe we'll save them one or two." With that, the pair rode off, laughing.
"Jerks!" Jeremy called out to their backs as they pedaled away. Without another choice, he and Danny started walking to the tree. But just as they got there, they were surprised to see Ken and Matt already back on their bike and leaving empty-handed.
"You guys just hiked for nothing," Ken grinned sourly. "Last winter's blizzard really did a job on that tree. Check it out. All the low branches got knocked off, which means all the apples are high and there's no way to climb. If we couldn't reach 'em, you pipsqueaks don't have a chance." And with that, he and Matt rode away.
"Okay, let's just go back," Danny sighed. "At least we'll be good and hungry for Grandma's turkey after all this exercise."
Jeremy was about to agree, when he got an idea...
When he and Danny got back to their grandparents' house, Kenny and Matt were still sitting outside, waiting for dinner.
"Hey, what took you guys so long?" Ken sneered, "I was afraid maybe you passed out from hunger, like I'm about to do, too. Grandma sure is a great cook, but she sure is slow."
Jeremy and Danny looked at each other and giggled.
"Should we show 'em, Jer?" Danny smiled.
"Why not?" Jeremy said and, unrolling his shirt, let about a half dozen juicy, red apples roll out. "Actually we're kinda full now, but if you guys want you can each have one."
"I don't believe it!" Ken sputtered "How did you ever get to the apples? Matt and I couldn't and each of us is much taller than either of you!"
"Maybe," Jeremy grinned "But you're not taller than both of us put together. We just teamed up and stood on each other's shoulders next to the tree. Then the apples were in easy reach!"
The older boys shook their heads. "Why didn't we think of that, Matt?"
"I guess each of us was just thinkin' about ourselves. Maybe all it takes is a little teamwork to make big jobs smaller …and make small people bigger."
Q. How did the kids feel at first when the apples were too high to reach?
A. They felt like there was nothing to do but give up.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. That by working together they could do something that was impossible to do alone.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. Although the younger kids weren't as tall as the older kids, when they teamed up and cooperated, they were able to do what even the bigger kids couldn't. Working together is a powerful key to success.
Q. Do you think a person can 'go it alone' in life without ever giving to or taking from others?
A. Almost all of living involves cooperating. Even the products we buy were made by other people. While it's fine to value independence, we should balance it with healthy cooperation.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. How do you think the world would look if people truly agreed to freely cooperate and work together?
A. It would be a dream world - a heaven-on-earth. No one would lack anything and there would be plenty of everything to go around. God made the world abundant - it is only human greed that prevents it from appearing that way.
Q. Is that type of world attainable?
A. Human nature includes a component of self-interest and greed. As long as this exists, it is very unlikely that people will fully cooperate with each other. However, we can and should move toward that ideal. And, in fact, our tradition teaches that just such an ideal, selfless, God- and giving-centered world will eventually develop.