On the Fast Track
It's a good trick to know how to be quick. In this week's Torah portion, God takes Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery so fast that they don't even have time to make regular bread. To remember this miracle, the Torah tells us to make the matzah for each Passover so quickly that its dough can't rise. From here we can learn the positive trait of alacrity - doing things quickly - which will help us to get more done and make the most out of life.
In our story, a kid discovers that slow isn't the only way to go.
"Jef-f-f-f-f-frey-y-y-y! You're going to miss your bus!"
Jeff heard his mom yelling up the stairs as he sat on his bed, hurrying to tie his sneaker. Well ... you couldn't exactly call the slow, tired movements he made with his hands to loop the shoelaces together "hurrying." But what can I do? Jeff thought. I'm just a person who does things slowly.
He would slowly get out of his bed in the morning before school. He would slowly eat his snack at recess so he often came in late. And he would VERY slowly do his homework that it would often stay half done. Of course, he got into plenty of trouble with school and at home because of all this, but that's just the way things were.
Jeff slowly ambled off the bed and 'rushed' down the stairs - one slow step at a time. His mom, who seemed to him to be moving at the speed of light, held open his jacket so he could slowly stick his hands into the sleeves and handed him his lunchbox. With a quick hug that ended with a gentle push, she slid Jeff out the front door ... just in time to see the back of the school bus that was pulling away. Looks like I'll have to walk again ... slowly, of course.
At least tomorrow is a school holiday and a day off, Jeff thought that evening, as he got ready for bed. He was about to leave his alarm clock happily turned off when he remembered that he and a neighborhood buddy had made up to meet and go cross-country skiing - the sport he loved best in the world - on their day off. The boy switched his alarm button on. Since they wanted to get an early start so the trails would be nice and smooth, he'd be getting up the same time as regular school days so he didn't even have to reset it.
B-R-RIN-G-G-G! Jeff stirred at the ringing alarm clock. He was about to roll over and wait for the snooze alarm to go off a few times like every day when he remembered the alarm had gone off because he was supposed to go skiing. The boy jumped out of bed full of energy. He flew into his clothes and shoes, and nearly slid down the banister. He expected his mother to be sleeping - since he was off from school, she didn't have to get up early either - but was surprised to see her up and busy at the kitchen counter.
"Hey, what a nice surprise!" his mom said as she heard him come in. "You're going to make it in plenty of time today."
Jeff didn't know what she meant. And why was she packing his school lunch box? "You know you're even going to have time for breakfast before the bus comes," she said with a smile in place of her usual worried frown.
"What bus?" Jeff asked, by now totally confused.
"Your school bus, what else?"
"But today's a school holiday - it's a teachers' day off, and there's no school," he informed his mom, who had apparently forgot.
"You mean tomorrow's the holiday. They moved it back this year so everyone could have a three-day weekend, remember?"
Jeff peered out the kitchen window and cringed at the sight of groups of kids in school clothes making their way down the street.
How could I have possibly forgotten! Jeff asked himself. How could I make such a mistake? And ... he swallowed ... how could I have gotten out of bed, dressed and downstairs so fast when it always went so slow for me? Hmm...
Jeff enjoyed his breakfast - and enjoyed not having the usual morning pressure on himself and his mom. Even though he wasn't going to glide along the ski-trails today like he hoped, he knew he'd learned a lesson: that speeding up was something he could do, and was sure worth his while.
Q. How did Jeff feel about doing things slowly at first?
A. He felt like he had no choice and couldn't do things faster.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized he really could move fast if he wanted to and felt inspired to improve.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jeff learned from what happened?
A. He hadn't thought he was able to do things fast and that it was important to do so, but after realizing he could do things more quickly - and that it made life more pleasant, he decided it was something worthwhile to do.
Q. Why do you think Jeff got up and out faster when he thought it was a holiday?
A. Since he felt motivated - he wanted to get up early and ski - he was able to do things quickly, whereas usually he was un-motivated to go to school. This helped him realize that his slow-ness was something he could control and improve.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the advantage of having alacrity?
A. On a practical level, we simply get a lot more accomplished when we move fast. Besides this, doing things quickly can fill us up with energy and make life seem more joyful and fun.
Q. When could it be better not to have this trait?
A. If going quickly makes us careless, it's likely better to slow down somewhat. Also if we feel tempted to do something we know we shouldn't, a little procrastination is the best thing we could do.