It feels good when we get the things we want. And that's okay. But sometimes having plenty can make us feel conceited. When we feel that way, we forget to be grateful for what we have and to thank God, Who gave it to us. It can even cause us to act like we're better than people who don't have as much as we do. Our Torah portion this week reminds us how whatever good we have is a gift from God. This helps us enjoy what we have without letting it go to our heads.
In our story, a boy teaches his friends to be grateful and not haughty about what they have.
It seemed like the "ultra-bike" was taking over Corey Avenue. Solly was the first to get one. The "ultra" had the strength of a mountain bike and the speed of a racer. Its day-glow paint job made it look like a streak of light as it cruised down the road.
Soon the other boys in the neighborhood followed Solly's lead. They begged their parents for the expensive new bike, and soon almost everyone seemed to be riding an "ultra" of his own.
Chaim, who lived in an apartment house at the end of the street, came home one day and asked his parents if he could also get the bike.
His father sighed and answered, "Chaim, I know how much you want a new bicycle like your friends, but right now money is pretty tight and we just can't do it. You'll have to make do with your old bike for now, son."
Chaim understood, but was disappointed. His bicycle looked so old and clunky compared to the sleek new "ultra-bike" all his friends seemed to be riding.
That afternoon, Chaim heard the phone ring. "Hello?" he picked up.
"Hi Chaim, this is Solly," said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line. "A bunch of the guys are getting together to take a bike trip to Franklin Park this afternoon. We'll play some ball on the new field, and have a picnic after. Wanna come?"
Chaim hesitated. He felt embarrassed to go out with his old bike, but Solly encouraged him to come. "C'mon, we'll have a great time," he said. Finally Chaim agreed. "Great!" said Solly. "We're all meeting at 2:00 in my driveway. See you there!"
When the time came, Chaim met up with his friends. There were five boys, all of them on brand new ultra-bikes, except for Chaim.
When he got there, Joey, one of the boys, quipped, "Hey Chaim, your bike looks like it's ready for the junkyard. You sure you're gonna make it?"
Some of the other guys started to laugh, but Solly cut them off. Shaking his head, he walked over to boy who made the joke. "Joey, that wasn't funny," he said sternly. "Just because you've got a new bike and he doesn't, is that any reason to put him down? You should feel grateful and happy that you have a new bike. I do too. But it doesn't make us better than anybody else, and it certainly doesn't give us the right to hurt anybody's feelings, does it?"
Joey was silent. It was obvious that he felt bad about what he had said. Then Solly looked at tall, strong, Chaim and said loudly with a big smile, "Anyway, the way this guy can ride, he'd probably beat all of us there even if we were on motorcycles and he was on a roller skate. Let's get going!"
This time, everybody laughed, including Chaim. And the boys all took off down the road on their way to a good time.
Q. Did Joey do the right thing when he teased Chaim about his old bike? Why or why not?
Q. How did Chaim feel when Joey did what he did?
A. He felt very bad and embarrassed.
Q. How did Chaim feel after Solly make his joke?
A. He felt much better since Solly's joke said something nice about him. He felt accepted even though he didn't have a new bike.
Q. Why do you think a person who has more than somebody else would put the other person down?
A. It's easy to start to confuse the value of a person with the value of his possessions. "Since I have more, I must be better than him." This could tempt a person to act conceited and insult others.
Q. How can a person overcome this feeling?
A. He can try to remember that everything he has is only a gift from God and therefore there is no reason to feel like he's better than anybody else. God gives everybody just what they need to accomplish their mission in life. It has nothing to do with who's "better" or "worse." Every person has infinite value just because he or she is a person.
Q. In our story Joey tried to make Chaim feel bad, and Solly tried to make him feel good. Who do you think had more self-confidence, Joey or Solly? Why?
A. Solly. When a person feels good about himself he naturally wants to make other people feel good too. But when someone starts putting others down, a lot of times it's because he's not so happy about who he himself is and tries to lower others in order to make himself look good.
Q. Can you think of something you're grateful to have?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you say that if somebody worked hard to earn what he amassed that he now has the right to feel proud of himself and even to feel superior to those who didn't work as hard as he?
A. While being hard-working is certainly an admirable trait, still it is important to remember that everything we have, or have accomplished is ultimately only a gift from God. He gave us the strength and the tenacity to work hard, gifts that perhaps others lack. Also, our success is only in His hands. Many people may work as hard or even harder than we, yet not succeed. It's important to feel grateful and take pleasure in our success. But it's unwise to look down on others because of it.
Q. Our sages teach us that a person should desire to be neither poor nor rich, but rather in the middle. Why do you think this is so? Do you agree?
A. Both poverty and wealth are difficult tests for a person who wants to be good. If one has too little one can be tempted to steal from others. Whereas if one has plenty, one could become conceited and forget that everything is a gift from God. A person with just enough and not too much is most likely to succeed on a personal character level, which is the level that counts.