Ups and Downs

June 23, 2009

8 min read


Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

The Torah tells us that after the Jewish people had been wandering in the wilderness, God informed them that all the ups and downs they had experienced during that time were "... to test you and to know what is in your heart."

This sums up the meaning of a "test."

A test at school shows very clearly what we do and do not know. It lets us and others know where we stand. But there are other types of tests that have nothing to do with school. Any situation that challenges us to see if we are going to act according to our true values or not, is a test. Our lives are full of such "life tests."

Sometimes the test comes in the form of difficulties to see whether we will remain positive, with faith in God and pleasantness toward other people. Sometimes the test comes in the form of good fortune, to see if we will remain humble and appreciative of all the good that we have. When we keep this in mind we won't get carried away by the good times in our lives, nor will we get bowled over by the hard times. We'll feel able to take things in stride and to accept whatever comes our way, and do our best to "pass the test."


In our story a boy teaches his brother about how to handle life's tests.


      Brad Ungar's family was on their annual camping vacation. This year they had set out for the clean air and majestic views of the Rocky Mountains. It was a long ride but they knew that the breathtaking scenery and relaxing quiet of nature would make the trip worthwhile.

      Mr. Ungar pulled their camper into the spot that the family had reserved -- by gleaming Silver Lake. Brad and his brothers piled out and headed straight for the beckoning waters.

      After a fun filled day of swimming, canoeing and trail-blazing, everyone settled in for a well-deserved good night's sleep. While their mom and dad opted to sleep in the comfort of the camper, the kids chose to set up a tent and sleep under the stars.

      The night was quiet and still, but that peace didn't last too long, because almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, the boys were greeted to a chorus of loud, raucous cries: "Whaaaa ... Whaaa ..."

      It seemed that the camper parked in the next spot was inhabited by a couple with a young baby that just wouldn't stop screaming. In their home in the city the boys probably wouldn't have even noticed the noise, but here in the quiet mountains the baby's screams sounded like a fire engine's sirens.

      The Ungar kids started to grumble among themselves. "How do we turn him off?" muttered one. "What a bummer!" sighed another. The only one who seemed undisturbed was Brad. He just quietly lay there looking totally calm. From the look on his face you could have thought that the piercing screams coming from the nearby camper made a beautiful symphony.

      His brother Steve noticed this and tapped Brad on the shoulder. "Hey, doesn't that screaming baby bother you?" he asked.

      Brad looked up. "Well I guess I was annoyed at first," he admitted. "But then I kept telling myself 'it's only a test' and I felt okay."

      "Only a what?!" exclaimed Steve.

      Brad smiled and explained, "Well, I like to think of myself as a patient, understanding person. So now God is giving me a chance to prove it. This screaming baby in the middle of nowhere is my test not to lose my cool. I even started to feel sorry for the kid, who must be pretty uncomfortable, and, especially for his parents, who have to deal with him all night."

      "Hmm, I hadn't thought of that," said Steve as he rolled over in his sleeping bag and tried to go to sleep. The next morning the boys awoke and discovered to their delight that the camper next to them had already pulled out and left. At least, they would get a little peace and quiet for the rest of their trip!

      As the kids were rinsing out their breakfast dishes in the lake, Steve elbowed his brother and said, "Well Brad, it looks like the 'test' is over, huh?"

      But Brad shook his head. "Nope," he said. "It only changed."

      Steve nearly dropped his plate and looked at his brother who went on: "Now the test is to see if we really appreciate the peace and quiet that we have. And if we make the most of it and really relax."

      Steve smiled and shook his head and said, "Wait until I tell my teachers that I spent my whole vacation taking tests!"


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Steve feel when the baby in the next camper started screaming?
A. He got angry and just wanted him to stop.

Q. Did Brad also feel angry when he heard the baby crying at night?
A. No. He knew that it was really just a "test" from God to see if he would be patient.

Ages 6-9

Q. In our story Brad realized that the crying baby was really a test of his patience, and the quiet that came after the baby left was really a test of his appreciation. Can you think of some other things that could happen to a person and how they could be testing him or her?
A. Imagine, for example, if your mother makes you your favorite cake. Your test might be to see if you will share it with others or if you will act in a selfish manner and try to grab most of it for yourself. Another example might be just the opposite. Imagine that you are being served something you don't like at dinner -- like spinach. In that case, your test might be to see if you will be considerate of the feelings of your mother who cooked it for you and not make a fuss, if you will say something negative about it which might hurt her feelings.

Q. Usually the tests we take in school we either pass or fail, and that's it. Is a "life test" like that also?
A. Not really. The point of a "life-test" isn't to simply pass or fail. God sends these tests to us to help us grow. When we are in a challenging situation and meet the challenge, we find out about a strength inside of us we might not have known we had. Even if we don't respond to the tests the way that we would have hoped, we still learn to do better next time. Anything we learn from the test will help us grow, and that means we've passed.

Q. What are some "life tests" that you have experienced recently?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What, in your opinion, could be the point of having to experience "life tests?"
A. The purpose of life is spiritual growth. The world is like a giant gym to help us strengthen all aspects of our character. Each type of "life test" is like a different exercise machine to train us in a specific way. Annoying people and situations test and strengthen our patience. People who are in need test and strengthen our ability to give, etc. When we take on the challenge of whatever "life-test" the moment brings, we train ourselves spiritually and become more developed people.

Q. What makes a given situation a "test"? Would you say that Brad would have passed a test if the noise at night was just that of the leaves rustling in the breeze?
A. A test sets up a battle inside of us. It presents us with a situation that equally draws us to respond in two opposite ways: one way models the proper value, and one way doesn't. When we use our free will to choose the right way, we pass the test. But something that is so easy to take -- like the rustling of leaves --isn't really a challenge for most people. Everyone is different so everyone's "battle-lines" are also different. When Brad heard the baby crying he could have gone either way, so when he chose not to let it bother him, he passed the test.

Q. What are some "life tests" that you have experienced recently?


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