This is a week of beginnings. We begin a new cycle of Torah readings, in which we learn about the beginning of the universe, the world, and everything in it. In this week's Torah portion, God reveals to us an important secret about beginnings. As each day of creation is described, we are told, "And it was evening, and it was morning..." Evening came first. In fact, even today, the Jewish calendar day is counted starting from the previous night. We can learn from this that it is the way of the world for darkness to precede light. In our lives that means that before we will experience the light of any worthwhile accomplishment, it is normal to pass through a period of darkness and difficulty. Knowing this secret gives us the power to persevere when things get tough, and rest assured that the light of dawn is right around the corner.
In our story, a boy learns the secret of how to pass through darkness to reach the light.
"DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT"
Terrible groaning noises were coming out of David Simmons' garage. Mark and Ray, two of Dave's buddies who were passing by, heard the strange sounds and went to peek into the garage window to make sure everything was okay.
Inside they saw their friend, David, his face flushed red and cheeks bulging, clumsily trying to blow into the mouthpiece of a shiny new saxophone. They knocked on the window to get the boy's attention. David put down the sax, and with an embarrassed smile walked over to the door and let them in.
"Hey, what's going on in here?" asked Mark with a wink. "From the sound of things we thought you had a sick cow in here or something!"
"Yeah," added Ray with a chuckle, "those noises could wake the dead!"
David blushed. "C'mon guys, give me a break. I'm practicing for the school jazz band. I always wanted to play the horn, so I started to take lessons last week."
His friends shrugged. "Well," said Ray, "judging by those sounds you're making, I'd say give it up now." The guys laughed and walked away.
Later that day, Mr. Howard, David's music teacher, arrived to give him his lesson. David was down in the dumps. "I don't think the horn's for me - I sound awful," David blurted out.
But to David's surprise, Mr. Howard just smiled. "Dave, do you like the way I play?"
"Sure, you're a real pro. You even cut a CD. But, you know how to play, I..."
Mr. Howard cut him off with a laugh. "What do you think - the first time I picked up a horn I was Louie Armstrong? I was so bad that my kid brother used to walk around with two pillows tied around his ears whenever I would practice!"
David laughed. "So what happened?"
"I paid my dues, that's what! To get anywhere worthwhile you've got to go through some muddy waters at first. Little by little though, if you stick to it, you begin to see the light. The problem with most people is that they just give up when things get tough. They don't realize that its just part of getting there. But I didn't give up, and as you can see, or rather hear - I think it was worth it."
David took his teacher's words to heart and felt energized. He kept up his practice each day, in spite of his friends' taunting. And sure enough, little by little, it began to click. The sour notes turned sweet, and soon kids would come by when he practiced - not to tease David, but to listen and enjoy the fine music. Within a year, David did become the horn player for 'Dawning Light', the school jazz band.
One evening, after a performance, Ray came over to him with a sheepish grin. "I admit I was wrong about you, man. You're really good! How did you do it?"
David smiled. "Thanks for the compliment. I'll tell you the truth, the only way to reach the 'Dawning Light' was to be willing to walk through some darkness first."
Q. How did David feel when his friends first made fun of the way he played?
A. He felt as if he should give up, since he wasn't very good.
Q. How did he feel after he spoke to his music teacher?
A. He felt better since he realized that even thought it's hard at the beginning, if he kept trying he would get better - and he did!
Q. If things don't come easily when we try something new, do you think that this is a sign to quit?
A. Although it might feel frustrating, and tempt us to give up, difficult beginnings are part of the nature of life. In fact, when something is difficult, it makes your accomplishment even more meaningful and rewarding. So don't give up - look forward to the pleasure you'll receive once you overcome the difficulty.
Q. Do all beginnings have to be difficult, or is there an easy way to get around it?
A. There is really no easy way. But there are some things we can do to take the sting out of difficult beginnings. One thing is to be aware that we will likely hit some snags at the outset of any project. This will prepare us and help us to keep going when they hit, since we know that soon things are likely to get better. We can also try to stay focused on our goal, keeping in mind why it's worth the pain. Doing that helps us get through all the ups and downs of getting there.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What's the benefit of "paying one's dues" with difficult beginnings?
A. To accomplish anything worthwhile takes a lot of energy, determination, and serious effort. A primary tool to get things done is will-power. The "dues," the difficulties that we may encounter as we try to accomplish our goals, are great "'will-power builders." They force us to affirm our will to keep going and push through even when things get tough. The strengthened will that these difficulties develop within us often makes the difference between reaching our goals or not.
Q. Who enjoys his accomplishments more: someone who had to struggle to get there, or someone to whom it came easily? Why?
A. There is no comparison. It is inescapable human nature that the degree of effort that we put into attaining something parallels the amount of satisfaction we derive from it. Therefore the obstacles and struggles along the way, although perhaps not pleasant, are really blessings in disguise that will pay off in the future joy of overcoming them.