Live Like a King
Did you ever think about what it would be like to be a king? In ancient times, many kings could have and do anything they wanted. But in this week's Torah portion, we learn about the Jewish king and how differently he had to act. God tells him to be moderate and not to gather up too much treasure or other things of pleasure for himself. While God wants us to enjoy the good things of the world, we shouldn't get too carried away by them. There can be too much of a good thing. Even a king has to behave with moderation, and all the more so, everyone else.
In our story, a boy shows his friends the value of choosing moderation.
"SCOOP OF THE CENTURY"
It was Akiva's birthday and his friends surprised him by taking him out to "The Big Scream" ice cream parlor. Famous in the city, the "Big Scream" had more than 100 flavors of ice cream and even more kinds of sundaes and milk shakes. The biggest sundae -- the "ice berg" -- was so big that the waiter had to bring out a special table just to hold it for anyone who ordered it.
Akiva was happy his friends had thought of him and tried to play along. As he scanned the huge 20-page menu, his friends eagerly egged him on.
"Go for it!" said his friend, Motty. "You're king for the day -- get whatever you want!"
"Yeah, get an 'ice-berg,'" said another. "We'll all watch you sink it -- or it sink you!"
Soon the waiter appeared. He introduced himself as Fred. "What'll it be guys?" he asked from behind his colorful sprinkle-mask.
"We'll let the Birthday-King order first," said the boys, pointing to Akiva, 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?"
Akiva looked up, and in a serious tone, said, "Nope. I'm gonna go for it. Gimme an ice-berg!" 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, Akiva sunk the special oversized spoon into the middle of the milky mountain, drew it to his lips and smiled. "Delicious. Absolutely delicious," was all he said, whipped cream sitting playfully on the tip of his nose.
Spoonful after spoonful followed as Akiva 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 slowing down.
"What's the matter," taunted Motty. "You had enough?"
Akiva looked at his friend defiantly and said, "No way! Never enough of a good thing." But his voice had clearly lost some of its earlier enthusiasm. However, after a few more minutes, Akiva put down his spoon and held his stomach. His eyes looked glassy.
"Hey, aren't you gonna finish your ice-berg?" asked one of the boys. Akiva just shook his head and groaned. "Take it away guys, and please take me home. I think I'm gonna be sick."
"But you're the birthday-king" protested Motty. "Today's Sunday. We've got all day. Next we planned to take you out to a ball-game, then for pizza, then to the beach, and then..."
"Motty," said Akiva, managing a weak smile. "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 Akiva 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 Akiva to try to eat the whole thing? Why or why not?
A. Because it made him sick and also he couldn't enjoy the rest of his birthday plans.
Q. Imagine for a moment that you could have as much as you wanted of your favorite food. Maybe it's a huge vat of popcorn or a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Which bite do you think would taste the best? Why?
A. Probably the very first bite because that's when we are hungry and our taste buds are on high alert. After a while, we fill up and then we no longer taste the food; we are just stuffing ourselves. That's known as too much of a good thing -- what the Torah portion warns against. To really enjoy things, it's necessary to be fully aware of what you are doing -- or eating.
Q. Physical pleasures are great, if we have them in moderation. Can you think of other kinds of pleasures that don't wear off so fast over time, and that we just enjoy more and more?
A. Certain pleasures such as love or learning something we're interested in, or understanding more and more about life can be like that. Or the pleasure we feel in helping others and doing acts of kindness. These spiritual pleasures are deeper and more long lasting.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Some people claim that we should try to grab as much physical pleasure in the world as we can. "Eat drink and be merry," they say, because that's all there is. Others claim all such material pleasures are "sinful" and we should totally deprive ourselves. Which if any of these philosophies do you agree with?
A. Judaism says: 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. We should partake of the pleasures of the world, but in moderation. If we do that we open ourselves up to appreciate the even greater and more enjoyable spiritual pleasures that make the physical type seem pale in comparison.
Q. Do you agree that moderation is a higher level of willpower and spirituality than either indulgence or total abstinence?
A. When we abstain or fast, we merely "turn off" a part of ourselves and become less aware of the world around us. To indulge without limit also blinds us as we get "lost" in the object of our desires. But moderation means to be "turned on" fully with full awareness of life's pleasures, but still in control. This can be a very high and spiritual feeling.