Too Much, Too Little
V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )
Don't overdo it! In this week's Torah portion (4:2) Moses gives the people a valuable piece of advice: When following God's guidelines of how to live the most successful life, do just as He asks - not less, and not more. We can learn from here that although it's great to be enthusiastic, when following instructions, doing too much can be as counterproductive as doing too little.
In our story, a kid goes too far and come up short.
"Whoa, Jerry, slow up!" shouted Ed, the counselor, as he tried to keep track of the gung-ho Jerry, who was always dashing ahead of the pack. "We're setting up camp here for the night," he said as he began to unwrap and pitch the pup-tents they'd been lugging.
"What's next to do?" Jerry, who doubled back to rejoin the group, asked.
"Where do you get all your energy?" the counselor smiled, wiping his tired brow. "Well, we have to make a campfire before we settle in for the night. You and the other guys can go gather some deadwood - you know - dried out twigs, branches and a couple of logs. We'll sort them out by size then set it all up."
A short while later, the piles appeared. Some of the less energetic kids brought mostly kindling, while Jerry somehow managed to round up enough dried-out logs to build a small cabin and piled them off to the side.
"Okay, okay, that's enough," Ed laughed. "Way too much, actually. Okay, it's gonna be dark soon, so let's get the campfire going."
They made the fire, carefully lighting the kindling beneath a tripod of larger sticks.
"Hey, can't we throw in the logs, too?" Jerry asked.
"Not yet, Jer," Ed said. "We've got to get the fire burning steady first with the smaller wood."
It took a while, but the campfire had finally caught and settled into a warm, crackling glow.
"Now? Can we do it, now?" Jerry asked for about the fifth time.
"Okay," Ed said. "I'm going to bring some hotdogs and marshmallow from the supply tent. I'll be right back. If you want, you can carefully place one of the logs onto the fire - but not more."
The log Jerry added seemed to catch fire well, so he quickly added another.
"Hey, what are you doing?" asked Mike. "Didn't Ed say 'just one'?"
"Yeah, I know." Jerry snapped back. "But he probably just doesn't want to use up all the logs too fast... But since I brought so many, I can easily pile on three or four and it won't even make a dent."
Despite his bunkmates' objections, that's just what Jerry did. But instead of the nice, big, glowing flame Jerry expected, the fire seemed to be dying out and then there wasn't any fire at all, just a big, black billow of smoke.
"Hey, what did you do?" the guys started yelling, giving Jerry dirty looks.
"Um, gee ... I don't know. The fire should be going good... I just..."
Just then, Ed returned. He took one look at the smoked-out ex-campfire and knew just what happened. He took Jerry aside.
"I know you were trying to help, but you overdid it and didn't listen to what I told you. All those logs you put on just squashed the burning embers and choked off the air to the fire to smother all the flames."
Jerry gulped, looking at the fast-setting sun.
"Does that mean we've got to spend the whole night in the dark?"
Ed grinned. "Well, fortunately you gathered enough wood that we can make another campfire - start building."
As he did, Jerry was careful to follows the counselor's instructions closely as he realized that overdoing it just made him have to do it over.
Q. How did Jerry feel at first about adding more logs?
A. He felt it was okay even though it was more than the counselor said to put on.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw that he'd caused a problem by doing too much.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jerry learned from what happened?
A. He'd figured that as long as he was doing more than asked, it was fine. But he discovered that sometimes doing too much was as bad as doing too little.
Q. Is there ever a right time to do more than asked?
A. If you feel like the person asking would really like or need more but is embarrassed to ask, then doing more can be a good deed. However, when following explicit instructions to get something done, it's better to be precise and stick to what we're asked to do.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think God's instructions in the Written and Oral Torah are so specific and detailed, rather than just general guidelines for living?
A. God wants to give us the greatest gift possible and that is the eternal pleasure of closeness to Him. Each instruction and guideline in the Torah is a specific way to connect to Him spiritually toward achieving this goal.
Q. Can a person 'overdo it' spiritually?
A. Real spirituality is striking a harmonious balance between our bodies and souls. If we ignore our basic physical needs in the name of 'spirituality,' we will go out of balance and miss the mark.