Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9 )
No matter what dumb or foolish choice a person may make in life, there's always hope to change things for the better. In this week's Torah portion we learn about how in the times of the Tabernacle, a person who became contaminated in the most severe way still had a way to undo it and cleanse himself. So, too, we can always choose to 'clean up' our act if we want.
In our story, a kid finds out that even after a foolish choice - there's still a choice to make.
A boy in a bathing suit, his bright yellow swim-goggles high on his forehead, came rushing into the bunk.
"Okay, Josh. It's 3:00, time to hit the pooooool!"
But his friend, who was lying on his cot, just opened his half-sleeping eyes and waved him away. "You can go, Marc. I just wanna keep sleepin'."
"Sleeping? What are you talkin' about? We just made up a little while ago at lunch how we were gonna be swim buddies for the camp free-swimming period every day!"
The boy on the bed let out a slight groan.
"Hey, are you sick or something, Josh?"
"Not exactly. I … you know ... I ate some stuff from the big 'care package' of candy and snacks my mom sent me." He sat up a bit and pointed to his half-open foot locker bursting with more sugary and crunchy treats than a pirate's treasure chest. On the floor surrounding it, were about a dozen crumpled empty snack wrappers. "I guess I ate too much and it kinda knocked me out."
"I'll say! No wonder you're belly-up man." Marc sputtered, "It's a miracle you're still alive!"
"Yeah, I know. It was dumb - but I did it. So I'm gonna ... ugh ... have to skip swimming for today. But tomorrow we'll do it, for sure."
But the next day, the exact scene repeated itself.
"Hey, Josh, what's happening this time?" Marc asked, seeing his friend laid out on his bunk bed like a beached whale.
"Same thing," groaned Josh. "I was really into going swimming today, but then I dug into the snacks in a big way and..." the kid grimaced, put his hand on his stomach and belched.
"I don't get you." Mark shook his head. "You mean to tell me you'd rather stuff yourself every day with junk food and pass out than splash around for an hour and a half in a cool, sparkling Olympic-sized pool?"
"No way!" Josh protested. "I love free-swimming period. It's my favorite part of summer camp. Just, you know, I keep making the same dumb mistake over and over. But what can I do? I guess I'm stuck and that's just the way it's going to be with me this year. You'd better just pick yourself out a new swim buddy, okay?"
Mark shook his head. "Uh, uh. You're the man. Just because you did something dumb, doesn't mean you have to keep doing it. Look, I've got a plan that's gonna make sure we swim together tomorrow and every day after that. But you've gotta be willing to cooperate. Interested?"
Josh's eyes lit up as he nodded his head.
THE NEXT DAY
"Hey, this water's great!" Josh laughed, splashing the cool water on his chest.
"Better than a couple of bags of greasy chips, huh?" Marc smiled, treading water.
"Definitely! I'm so glad I'm not making that same dumb choice any more. Your plan to lock all my snacks up in your trunk and let me pick out just one every day after lunch was a stroke of genius!"
"Stroke of genius, maybe," Marc smiled, "but that doesn't mean you can beat me in the backstroke. Let's race!"
Q. How did Josh feel about missing swimming every day by eating too many snacks?
A. He was disappointed, but didn't think he could change.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He was glad that he'd found a way to change.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Josh learned from what happened?
A. He'd felt that he was stuck having to keep making the self-destructive choice of overeating snacks and missing swimming, but he learned that he didn't have to and he could find a way out.
Q. Do you think Marc's plan to lock up the food was the best way to change the way Josh made his choices? Why or why not?
A. It would have been ideal if Josh could have stopped himself just with his own will power. But many times in life we can't rely on pure will power to get us to make the choices we deep-down want, so in that case, making strategies to avoid the destructive situation is a good, smart option.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think people can find it so hard to change for the better?
A. It's easy to get stuck in a negative pattern. After enough times of making a foolish choice, we can almost start to believe that there's no alternative. But a sign of spiritual greatness, and one of the main things we're living for, is to work steadily to grow and live in closer and closer harmony to our highest ideals and values.
Q. Do you think there are any negative traits that are beyond a person's ability to improve?
A. While each of us have negative traits, which, due to our upbringings or innate natures can present a big challenge to change, if we sincerely want to grow - and ask G-d for help - we can make greater strides than we would ever believe possible.