Life in the 21st century is filled with so many types of entertainment to choose from and packed with exciting new gadgets that seem to be springing up everyday. A person could spend his whole day plugged in to cyberspace and video games, getting lost in a hi-tech fantasy and almost forgetting about his real life.
But reality has a lot to offer - from the beauty of nature (even in our own back yard) to the warm feelings of being part of a family and a community. The simple pleasures of our daily encounters with the people around us can make us feel happier and richer than even the greatest technological marvel. The Torah portion this week reminds us to "choose life" - to choose to fully enjoy reality and appreciate the specialness of the real lives that God has given us. When we do, we'll be amazed to see how much there is for each of us to enjoy in our 'everyday' lives.
In our story, a boy helps his brother to choose life and realize it has a lot to offer.
"EARTH COMMAND-CENTRAL CONTROL" read the sign in official looking letters hanging on the door to Evan's Slater's bedroom.
Evan would submerge himself for hours on end in what he liked to call his "control center." His family was beginning to feel they would never see him at all except when Evan had to emerge from his room to eat.
He would sit there transfixed in front of his surround-sound audio system, state-of-the-art large screen computer/video hook-up, loaded with the latest interactive game software. His grandparents had given it to him for his birthday and lately it seemed to be all that the boy was interested in.
One afternoon, Evan's older brother, Dan, knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked again, harder, causing the "Central Control" sign to swing back and forth on its hook.
"Depart earthling!" barked out an annoyed sounding voice from with the room.
"Hey, come on out, Evan," Dan shouted. "I need to talk to you."
After a while the door opened a crack and Dan could make out his younger brother's silhouette behind it. He was wearing his new silver and day-glow wireless virtual space helmet.
"Evan, I could use your help. I'm putting up screens on the windows. It's getting to be bee season and they're coming in. One even stung Rachelle," he added, referring to their kid sister who could be heard crying in the background.
"Request denied, earthling!" answered the younger boy. "First of all I told you my name's not Evan anymore, its Oor-Van II. And secondly I'm busy with something much more important right now - saving the world!"
"What do you mean?" asked Dan, incredulous.
"I mean," said Evan impatiently, "That the Zilgons have practically entered our atmosphere. If I don't monitor the situation there will be a full-scale invasion."
The older boy rolled his eyes. "C'mon, that's just a computer game," he said. "It isn't really happening. Come out and help me, or at least help rake the leaves. Besides," he added, "it's beautiful outside. The fresh air will do you good."
"Rake the leaves!" gasped Evan. "How can you worry about such trivia while the future of the galaxy is at stake?!"
Dan could tell that Evan was serious. "Listen, brother," he said in an understanding tone. "I know you're really into your video games. I like to play too sometimes. But there's more to life. You live in a real family, with real people who care about you and expect you to be part of us. If you care about invasions, come help me with the real-life bee invasion that's going to happen soon if we don't get these screens up." He added with a smile.
Evan was quiet. He opened the door, took off his space helmet, looking a little embarrassed. "I guess I am getting a bit carried away," he said. "It's just that the games are so ... exciting. Real life is boring," he sighed.
"Only if you let it be," countered Dan. "Believe me, it was pretty exciting when that bee was chasing me a few minutes ago. And when I finally managed to trap it and looked at it up close, it really looked like something from out of this world. God created an amazing world - right here, right now. And you don't need any special helmets to enjoy it. So what do you say, um, Oor-Van II?"
The younger boy chuckled. "You can call me Evan for now." he said. "My real name is exciting enough too, I suppose. Hand me a force-field ... er, a screen, and let's get going before the invasion takes place!"
Q. How did Evan feel when his brother first asked him to stop playing the computer game and help out in the house?
A. He was upset because he felt that what he was doing was more important.
Q. Was Evan really helping more people by pretending to "save the world" on his video game or helping his family in the house?
A. By helping his family. Even though his game was fun and exciting for him, it wasn't real. But helping out his family was something real he could do to actually help people.
Q. Why do you think Evan was willing to sit for hours in front of the screen in order to "defend the world" in a make-believe game?
A. Things like computer games, TV, etc., are designed to get a person excited. They simulate situations that, if they really happened in our lives, would be thrilling or terrifying. (Imagine if aliens really had invaded!) But since in the end, these games aren't really a part of our real lives, a person ends up getting all excited about nothing. These games can be fun for a while. But sooner or later, we'll get bored. We find that we want to put our energy into things with real meaning, and that when we do, it's much more interesting than any computer game. This is called "choosing life."
Q. Do you think it's necessary to be constantly exposed to new and different people and things for life to be interesting and exciting? Or can a person still feel that way around the same people and places everyday?
A. When we see the same people and places everyday it's easy to get used to them. But in reality we only have to look deeper and we can see the wonders that God has put into our everyday lives. Next chance you get, pick up a flower or even a leaf and look at. Really look at it. You might be amazed at the awesome detail and incredible design that you see. Poets and artists are able to see this way and find the spectacular within the everyday things. Scientists teach us that the inner workings of the most simple flower or insect contain wonders that boggle the mind. Each person you meet is like a world waiting to be discovered. Life around us is amazing once we open our eyes.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Unfortunately we often hear of people who become caught up in dangerous habits and self-destructive behavior. They claim that they engage in this behavior in order to "escape." From what do you think they're trying to escape? Do you think they succeed?
A. Life can be challenging. God put us in the world and designed our lives to include many challenges. When we face these challenges and try our best to meet them, we grow as people. This is spiritual growth and while at times it can be uncomfortable or even painful, it can be the most valuable and meaningful part of life. Of course, there is always the temptation to try to escape or sidestep these challenges by blurring our minds and numbing ourselves to what is uncomfortable in reality. But ultimately this technique is about as effective as the ostrich who buries its head in the sand when it sees a lion. Sooner or later all challenges must be faced in order to grow. It is so much better to face them with our eyes open.
Q. In your opinion, who do you think is doing a more important job: a teacher who spends long days helping physically challenged (handicapped) kids learn how to walk and talk to live happier and fuller lives, or a big movie star, who spends his free time on the beach?
Q. Which one do you think receives more money and fame?
Q. How do you explain this?
A. It can happen that those who are the real heroes of our society can be overlooked and at the same time somebody else doing something that in a real sense is not very important is considered a "star." One of the reasons is that the work that the real heroes are doing, although more important, doesn't always seem as glamorous as the movies. Also, people who are genuinely interested in helping others and helping to make the world a better place often aren't so concerned about their own fame and fortune. They know that what they are doing has real meaning in their eyes and in the eyes of God. This is enough of a reward for them. People like this, even if nobody ever hears of them, really make the world go around.