Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17 )
What makes someone a winner? Is it your looks, talents and accomplishments, or is it your values and how well you treat others? More than 2,000 years ago the Jewish people were living in Israel and the Greek superpower tried to force us to adopt their philosophy and religion. Part that philosophy was that a person’s outer accomplishments, beauty, strength, knowledge etc. counts the most. Judaism, on the other hand, says that ethics and spiritual values are more important, and our ancestors fought for that idea - and won! On Chanukah we celebrate not only the miraculous military victory, but that by putting our values and ethics first, we can make the world to make it a kinder, better place.
In our story, a kid finds out what makes a winner.
Max rubbed his hands together in the nippy autumn air. Even though he was wearing only gym shorts and a t-shirt, he knew he'd be sweating bullets soon enough, as the final run-off for the school track team tryouts was only moments away.
"Okay, as you guys know," the coach called out, "there's only one place left on the team still open, and this run is going to decide who gets it - so don't hold anything back."
Max didn't plan to. He wanted to make the track team more than anything, and hoped that his long days of workouts and practice runs would pay off.
The coach blew a short whistle blast, signaling all the kids to line up at the starting block. Max squeezed in between Pete, a fast runner his age who Max thought would be his main competition, and another, younger kid.
The coach again lifted his whistle close to his mouth. "One … two…" and then he blew the whistle and the kids took off! Max took a couple of strides but then he hit a roadblock as the younger kid next to him had somehow stumbled over and was lying on the track, blocking the way.
"Clumsy ox!" Pete called out with a sneer and jumped over the kid, who was yelling in pain, and darted off. Max was about to jump over him, too, when it occurred to him that besides the pain he was in, how embarrassed he must feel lying there and having everyone just step over him like he was a piece of wood. Maybe they'd even step on or kick him and hurt him more.
With his lightning reflexes, Max hoisted the boy up and plunked him down on the grass at the side of the track. "You'll be okay," he whispered with a wink and immediately dashed off.
Max was fast on his feet and he soon caught up and passed most of the runners, but with less than one lap to go and the finish line fast approaching, Pete was still way ahead of the pack.
There's no way I can catch him! thought Max, as Pete was about to best him across the finish line. Did I make a mistake helping that kid at the start of the race? he asked himself as he chugged in, in second place. No, it was right and I'd do the same thing again. But, he thought sadly, I'm never going to have that chance, because Pete's won the race and made the team - not me.
Breathing hard, Max was stretching on the sidelines so he wouldn't get a cramp when he felt a pat on the back.
"Welcome to the team!" The coach looked down at him with a grin.
"Huh? ... But I didn't win the runoff race," Max said, confused.
"Maybe not, but I saw the whole thing that happened at the starting line," the coach said, "and I know what it takes to be a winner - and the way you - and only you - looked out for that kid in trouble shows you have what it takes. See you at team practice tomorrow!"
Q. How did Max feel when the kid running next to him fell down?
A. Though he wanted to win the race, he didn't want to let the fallen kid get embarrassed and hurt.
Q. How did Pete, the kid running next to Max, feel?
A. He didn't care about the fallen kid at all. He just wanted to win the race.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. While it's good and important to succeed at what we do, it's even more important - like Max in the story - to keep our priorities straight, care about others and treat them right.
Q. Do you think Max did the right thing?
A. While we could easily understand why he might have not helped the fallen kid, he achieved real greatness of character by putting his values ahead of his desire to succeed.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the difference between being 'goal oriented' and 'value oriented'?
A. A goal-oriented person sets a goal for him or herself and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. A value-oriented person may also have strong and specific goals, but will be unwilling to compromise his or her values to achieve them.
Q. How is the holiday of Chanukah related to our story and to the question above?
A. More than two millennia ago the Jewish people were living in Israel and the Greek superpower wanted not only to conquer them physically and politically, but wanted to force them to adopt their philosophy and religion and well. Part of the ancient Greek philosophy was that a person's outer accomplishments, beauty, strength, knowledge etc. were of prime importance and could be achieved even through cruel and unethical means. Judaism, on the other hand, says that ethics and spiritual values were primary. On Chanukah we celebrate not only our miraculous military victory, but that our value-oriented outlook has remained with us and spread throughout the world to make it a kinder, better place.