Real life 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 our lives feel happy and rich. Yet nowadays with so many types of entertainment to choose from, and all the exciting new gadgets that seem to be springing up everyday, we can get lost in fantasy and almost forget about our real lives. The Torah portion this week reminds us to "choose life" -- to choose to fully live and appreciate the specialness of the real lives that God had given us; to realize that there is a lot to enjoy for each of us everyday.
In our story, a boy helps his brother to choose life and realize it has a lot to offer.
"DO NOT DISTURB -- DEFENDER AT WORK!" read the sign in bold black letters hanging on the door to Eitan's room.
Eitan would lock himself alone in there for hours at a time and submerge himself in what he liked to call his "control center."
His "control center" included a surround-sound audio system and a state of the art large screen computer/video hook-up complete with the latest interactive game software. His grandparents had given it to him for his birthday and lately it seemed to be all he was interested in.
One afternoon his older brother Doron knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked again, harder, causing the "Do Not Disturb" sign to swing back and forth on its hook.
"Go away earthling," barked out an annoyed sounding voice from with the room.
"Hey, come on out, Eitan," Doron shouted. "I need to talk to you."
Finally the door opened a crack and Doron could make out his younger brother's silhouette from behind it. He was wearing his new silver and day-glow wireless virtual space helmet.
"Eitan, 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 Rachel," he added, referring to their kid sister who could be heard crying in the background.
"Forget it!" answered the younger boy. "First of all I told you my name's not Eitan anymore, its 8-N. And secondly I'm busy with something much more important right now -- saving the world!"
"What do you mean?" asked Doron, incredulous.
"I mean," said Eitan, "That the Zilgons have practically entered our atmosphere. If I don't monitor the situation there will be a total invasion."
Doron rolled his eyes. "That's just a video game," he said. "It isn't really happening. Come on out and help me, or at least help Avi rake the leaves, you know how mom's allergic. Besides," he added, "It's beautiful outside. The fresh air will do you good."
"Rake the leaves!" gasped Eitan. "How can you worry about such trivia while the future of the galaxy is at stake?!"
"Listen, brother," said Doron 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."
Eitan 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 Doron. "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, 8-N?"
The younger boy chuckled. "You can call me Eitan," he said. "My real name is exciting enough too, I suppose. Hand me a force-field ... er, a screen, and let's get going!"
Q. How did Eitan feel when his brother first asked him to stop playing the video game and help out in the house?
A. He was upset because he felt that what he was doing was more important.
Q. Was Eitan 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.
A. Because 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. Would it really make any difference in the lives of Eitan and his family if the "Zilgons" in his video game invaded the Earth or not?
Q. So why do you suppose Eitan was so caught up as to sit for hours in front of the screen in order to "defend the world?"
A. Things like video games, TV, etc., are designed to get a person excited. They simulate situations that, if they really happened in our lives, would be 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 all want more. 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 video game. This is called "choosing life."
Q. Would you say that it's necessary to be exposed constantly 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 the everyday. 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. How 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?
A. The teacher.
Q. Which one do you think receives more money and fame?
A. The actor.
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.