How would you act if you were king?
In ancient times, kings could often have and do whatever they wanted. But in this week's Torah portion, we learn about the ideal Jewish king and how moderately he would behave. Even though he had a lot of power, God reminds him to act responsibly by not to gathering up too much treasure or other things of pleasure for himself.
God wants us to enjoy the good things of the world, but not to get too carried away by them. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Even a king has to take it easy, and all the more so, everyone else.
In our story, a boy shows his friends the value of choosing moderation.
Andy Rider had just settled down into cushiony arms of his favorite Lazy-Boy chair when the doorbell rang. "Let's go birthday boy, we're hitting the road, and you'd better bring a spoon!" cried out his best friend, Marc.
It was Andy's birthday and his friends had come by to surprise him and take him out to The Big Scream ice cream emporium. Andy, who loved surprises, gladly went along. The Big Scream offered more than 100 flavors of ice cream and even more kinds of sundaes. The biggest sundae was the "Ice Berg." It was so gigantic that the waiter had to bring out a special table just to hold it.
When they got there the place was packed. The guys sat down and handed the birthday-boy a menu. Andy was happy his friends had thought of him and he scanned the huge 20-page menu, trying to decide what to get.
"Go for it Andy!" said Marc. "You're king for the day - get whatever you want!"
"Yeah, get an Ice Berg," added another one of the guys. "We'll all watch you sink it - or it sink you!"
The waiter appeared. "What'll it be guys?" he asked.
"We'll let the Birthday-King order first," said the boys, pointing to Andy, who still sat staring thoughtfully into the menu.
The waiter smiled and said, "May I suggest our King-sized Double Dip Chocolate Torpedo sundae? Or perhaps an Icy-Ocean Super-Sized Milkshake?"
Andy looked up, and in a serious tone said, "Nope. I'm gonna go for it. Gimme an Ice Berg please!" His friends cheered him on and placed their own, more modest orders.
Soon the waiter returned, wheeling out the enormous Ice Berg. With his buddies crowding around, Andy sunk the special oversized spoon into the middle of the milky mountain, drew it to his lips and smiled. "Delicious. Absolutely delicious," he purred, whipped cream sitting playfully on the tip of his nose.
Spoonful by spoonful, Andy made his way through the rivers of fudge, the forest of fruit, the tundra of toppings. But soon enough, it became apparent that the "King" was starting to slow down.
"What's the matter," taunted Marc. "You had enough?"
The boy looked back at his friends defiantly and said, "No way! Never enough of a good thing." But his voice had clearly lost some of its earlier enthusiasm. However, after just a few more minutes, Andy put down his spoon and held his stomach. His eyes looked glassy.
"Hey, aren't you going to finish your Ice Berg?" asked one of the boys.
Andy just shook his head and groaned. "Take it away guys, and please take me home. I think I'm going to be sick."
"But you're the Birthday-King - you can't quit now!" protested Marc. "A whole long Sunday is in front of us. After this we planned to take you to a ballgame, then out for pizza, then to the beach, and then..."
"Marc," said Andy, managing a weak smile. "Thanks, but no thanks. I may be the king for the day, but I feel like a real joker. Next time I think I'll order a smaller sundae so I can enjoy the rest of my Sunday!"
Q. How did Andy feel when the waiter first brought out the huge Ice Berg sundae that he had ordered?
A. He was really happy and felt like he was going to enjoy eating the whole thing.
Q. Was it a good idea for Andy to try to eat the whole thing?
A. Not really. It made him sick, and also he couldn't enjoy the rest of his birthday plans.
Q. Imagine that you could have as much as you wanted of your favorite food. Maybe it's a huge tub of popcorn or a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Which bite do you think would taste the best? Why?
A. Most likely the very first bite would taste best and things would go downhill from there. When we are hungry, our taste buds are on high alert. But after a while, we fill up and no longer even enjoy the food. If we keep going at this point, we will be overdoing it. It could even make us sick. That is called having too much of a good thing. To really enjoy things, it's necessary enjoy them in moderation, and be fully in control of what we are doing - or eating.
Q. Can you think of a kind of pleasure that doesn't wear off over time, and that we just enjoy more and more?
A. The pleasure of learning about something meaningful that we're interested in, or coming to understanding more and more about life can be like that. Also the pleasure we feel in helping others and doing acts of loving-kindness never fade. These are spiritual pleasures, and are deeper and more long lasting than the physical kind.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. There are those who claim that one should try to grab as much physical pleasure in the world as possible. "Eat drink and be merry," they say. Others claim all material pleasures are "sinful" and one should totally deprive himself of them. Which of these do you think is the Jewish way?
A. Neither! God wants us to enjoy this world and its pleasures. That's why He created them. But at the same time, He doesn't want us to live just for them, but use them as a means of attaining spirituality. Judaism says; partake of the pleasures of the world ... but in moderation. Our job is to uplift and spiritualize every part of our lives, including the physical.
Q. Which do you think requires a higher level of willpower and reflects a more spiritual dscision: moderation or total abstinence?
A. Totally abstaining from something, such as fasting in the case of food, does take willpower and is somewhat spiritual, it is ultimately merely a "turning off" of a part of ourselves which leaves us less in touch with the world around us. Moderation however requires an even higher degree of willpower, since we are constantly in contact with the object of our desires, yet continually choose to use it properly. This path of partaking without overdoing leaves us "turned on" with full awareness of life's pleasures, but still in control. This is a very high and spiritual feeling.