Should we simply live for the moment? If everything's okay right now, why plan for the future?
In this week's Torah portion, Joseph warns the Pharaoh of Egypt that although now there's plenty of food to go around, a famine is on the way, and soon there won't be enough to eat. Joseph devises a plan to store away food while there's still a lot. In the end, his plan saves Egypt from starvation and there is even enough food to sell to people in surrounding countries. The Torah wants us to learn that a wise person keeps his eyes open to the future and plans ahead.
In our story, a boy learns the value of planning ahead and being prepared.
Steve and Barry were two good pals with one big thing in common: a love for the outdoors.
"Computer screens and movie screens just don't do it!" Barry would always say with a husky voice. "Give me a mountain or a lake any day."
Steve's bedroom was practically a scene out of "National Geographic" as he had plastered his walls from top to bottom with pictures of beautiful nature scenes that he had cut out of his dad's magazines.
So when Barry suggested that the two of them go hiking up Mount Wichita that Sunday, Steve was totally into it. Barry, the more experienced hiker, reminded his friend to pack everything he might need for the grueling half-day hike. "You never know what to expect," he warned.
"Don't worry," assured Steve.
That Sunday, bright and early, the boys met up as planned at the parking lot at the base of the mountain's south slope. It was a warm, sunny day. "Perfect hiking weather," thought Steve, who got there first, as he waited for Barry to show up. A few minutes later his friend arrived, carrying a heavy backpack that seemed to be almost as tall as the boy himself.
"Hey buddy!" Steve greeted his friend. "Glad you made it. But why are you carrying your house?" he teased.
"Very funny," responded Barry. "We'd better get going, the day's not getting any younger. Where's your pack?"
"What do you mean," smiled Steve. "I've got it right here," he said pointing to a small knapsack slung over his right shoulder.
"Are you joking?" asked Barry. "This time of year on a hike like this you have to prepare for all weather. You've got to bring at least a gallon of drinking water and full foul weather gear!"
But Steve just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Look, it's a warm sunny day, and the map says there's a fresh water stream running all the way up the trail. Why should I bother hauling such a big load? I'll take my chances that the weather will stay fine."
Barry rolled his eyes. "I think you're nuts, but do what you want. Let's get going. Time's flying."
The boys enthusiastically set off, up the mountain trail. At first Steve with his lighter load was able to make his way up much easier than his friend who was breathing hard under his heavy pack. "Too bad you weighed yourself down," taunted Steve.
But Barry just nodded his head and said, "You'll see," in a tone of voice that unnerved Steve a bit, although he didn't show it.
About half way up the trail, gray clouds started to move in, which made it feel much colder. Barry stopped and changed into his down vest, which Steve looked at longingly from underneath his thin sweatshirt. The two tired hikers finally reached the top of the mountain and took a break before heading back down.
Barry sat comfortably on a rock drinking out of his canteen while Steve set out to get some water from the stream which ended up being not right next to the trail as the map promised, but a good distance away from it, across a thorn-filled clearing.
"Oww, ooh," exclaimed Steve as each step introduced him to some thorns that he hadn't met before. When he finally got back to the trail he was starting to shiver from the now quite cool mountain air. Just then, the boys were startled by a clap of thunder and the steady rain that soon followed.
Barry reached into his pack and quickly set up a small lean-to tent he had packed for such an eventuality. Steve looked at his warm, dry friend. He tried to pretend the rain didn't bother him. But after a few minutes he kneeled down at the entrance of the tent and said with an embarrassed smile, "Er ... Barry, do you have any room under your lean-to?"
"Sure, hop in! The rain should let up soon," answered his friend.
Sure enough, after a little while the sun began to peak through the mountain mist. The boys packed up and started to make their way back down the mountain.
Steve turned to his friend and pointing to his wet clothes said, "Barry, you were right, I should have prepared better. I'm soaked. But then again you told me before we started I was 'all wet.'"
The guys laughed as they happily lumbered down the trail.
Q. How did Steve feel when it got cold on the mountain and he didn't have warmer clothes to change into?
A. He wished that he had planned ahead and packed what he needed before starting the hike.
Q. Is it a good idea to pay attention and plan for what might happen later? Why?
A. Yes. When we plan ahead we are prepared for whatever might happen.
Q. Who do you think will enjoy himself more -- somebody who does things spontaneously without thinking ahead, or somebody who looks ahead and tries to plan for the future. Why?
A. Although it's always important to enjoy the present moment, it's a good idea to think ahead and anticipate possible consequences. For example, it might seem like a fun idea to just drop everything and go to the beach at a moment's notice. But when we get there we will probably wish we had taken the time to bring bathing suits to wear and had packed something to eat and drink. Thinking through our decisions and making plans can make a difference that will lead to a much more enjoyable day, week, or even lifetime. It is a mature and thoughtful approach that pays big dividends.
Q. In the story, Steve didn't know that it was going to get cold and rain. Is it possible for us to really know what's going to happen in the future so we can be totally prepared?
A. No. But what we can do is keep our eyes open and think about what's likely to happen and act appropriately. As our sages teach us, "A wise man tries to see the future consequences of his choices." The future does often hold unexpected surprises, and we can never know for sure if we are really prepared. In the end, we must put our trust in God that we will be able to handle things that come our way. But God wants us to also act responsibly and make reasonable plans for what is likely to happen. Steve should have realized that, considering the season, the weather was likely to change, and packed accordingly.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Who do you think displays more faith, somebody who plans for the future or one who leaves everything to "chance?"
A. Faith shouldn't be "blind." God has given us minds in order that we should make our lives meaningful and enjoyable. Part of this is making the most reasonable plans we can. But when our plans don't turn out as we expect, we must have faith and believe that God made it happen that way for a specific and good reason. For example, it could have happened that, after unpacking his tent, Barry discovered that it had a hole in it and he ended up getting rained on. Faith in God in such a situation would have meant making the best of it, and not complaining, because God surely had a good reason for what happened.
Q. What, in your opinion, is the difference between planning for the future and worrying about the future?
A. Planning is a positive act which indicates that we are confident in ourselves and the world. Worry is a negative and paralyzing emotion which wastes energy. When we worry, we often become paralyzed with anxiety and do nothing; in this way we deny our responsibility to improve the world. As it is said, "when we fail to plan, we plan to fail."