Seeing Our Special Gifts
Everyone is different. But each person, in his or her own special way, has something valuable to add to the world. Our job is to try to see it. In this week's Torah portion, we learn how Jacob who -- as he was about the leave this world -- called his sons together and gave each of them a blessing. He saw clearly each son's special traits and told them what he thought they needed to hear to make the best of themselves. When we try to see what's special about others it helps them to see it too.
In our story, a coach gives his team a lesson in how to appreciate each person's special gifts.
"MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS"
The Sun Valley Day School Rangers had a miracle season.
At the outset, nobody had expected the school basketball team to come in any better than third place, but they surprised everyone and made it to the State Championships where they were runners up.
To show their support for their returning heroes, the school staged an end-of-the year victory banquet for all the students and their families.
Marc Sherman, one of the team members felt excited and anxious as he and his brother Joe sat in the back seat of their parents' car on the way to the banquet.
"What are you so nervous about?" joked his younger brother. "You'd think you were on your way to a play-off game instead of a party."
Marc smiled tensely. "You don't understand. Coach Adelman is giving out the Most Valuable Player award tonight. And only one of us is going to win. I really tried hard this year and wonder if coach noticed and decides to give me the prize."
Just then the Sherman's station wagon turned into the school parking lot. Normally empty at this hour, the lot was almost full, as Ranger supporters packed in to honor the team's great season.
Inside, the atmosphere was festive. The school auditorium had, through the efforts of the booster committee, been converted into a stunning banquet hall. Red white and blue streamers cascaded from the rafters, and a huge "Way To Go - Rangers!" banner hung down behind the stage where the team members and their coach sat along a dais in rented tuxedoes.
A tasty dinner was served and the school band kept the mood lively with a medley of popular favorites. The team members were smiling and chatting nervously among themselves.
Soon though, the room became silent as Coach Adelman stood up and walked to the podium at the center of the stage. It was time to present the awards.
All eyes were turned to the coach. The short, stocky man squinted into the spotlight and looked a bit uncomfortable in his slightly too-tight tuxedo. He was obviously the kind of man who was more at home with a coach's whistle around his neck than a microphone.
"Er ... ladies and gentlemen..." he began gingerly. "I'd like to thank you all for coming this evening and for all the support you've given us this season." Applause. He went on. "As a man of few words, I'd like to move right on to the Most Valuable Player presentation."
The audience looked on as Coach Adelman reached into a large box which had been placed by his podium and pulled out a gleaming silver trophy. In his straightforward way the coach said, "I'd like to call upon a young man who really made this team come alive."
Marc and the other players held their breath and sat at the edge of their seats. "Would ... Jonathan, who led the team in scoring and rebounds please step up and receive his award!"
The audience burst out in applause as the tall lanky boy, looking both thrilled and slightly embarrassed, walked up to center stage and claimed his prize. As he returned to the dais Marc shook the boy's hand, trying his best to hide his disappointment. But after the applause died down, the coach surprised everybody as he reached yet again into the box, pulling out an identical trophy. Smiling, he said, "I'd also like to call upon Marc who was the team's most hard-working player to come and get his award."
The surprised audience quickly recovered and gave the second "MVP" a hearty round of applause.
But then the scene repeated itself as the coach pulled out trophy after trophy! He presented one to "Fred the most unselfish player," and one to "Alex, the player with the most team spirit," and on and on until every boy on the team had been given an award.
Even Larry, the "bench warmer," a clumsy boy who had hardly played the whole season got a trophy as "the most uncomplaining team member."
The boys on the dais were giving each other "high-fives" as the coach grabbed the microphone and said, "What can I say folks? To me they were all valuable players. Each boy in his own special way helped this team to have the kind of season it did."Everyone got up and gave the coach and the team a standing ovation. The band played a closing tune as the auditorium cleared out. The boys from the team ran to their parents excitedly showing them their trophies.
As Coach Adelman stepped down off of the stage he almost bumped into a boy who was waiting for him. "Hi Marc, what is it?" he asked with a smile.
Proudly holding his trophy, the boy beamed and said, "Coach, I just wanted to thank you for noticing me, and all of us guys. You made this into a night none of us will ever forget."
Q. How did Marc feel when he was waiting to see who the coach would choose for the MVP award?
A. He felt anxious and hoped that the coach would pick him.
Q. How did he feel after the coach gave out trophies to all of the boys?
A. He was really happy and felt like the coach had noticed all the good things that each of them had done.
Q. Had the coach only awarded a trophy to one of the players, how would have the other boys felt?
A. While everyone would have probably felt happy for their friend who had won, they might have also not have felt as good about themselves. They might have concluded that their contributions to the team weren't so valuable. Perhaps they might have been jealous of the boy who won. But when the coach gave each of them a prize they could all feel good about themselves, each other and the team as a whole.
Q. What positive effects could it have on people when we try to recognize and point out to them their special good qualities?
A. Besides simply making them feel good, which is a big thing, we also help them to see good things about themselves that they might not have even known about. This will also motivate them to develop these and other good qualities and grow into a better and better people.
Q. How can a person come to recognize and develop his or her own special good qualities?
A. Everybody has certain things that they are drawn to time and time again. One person likes helping out other people a lot. Somebody else just loves to learn about new things. Another person might have a knack to get others to laugh. Our special abilities give us a clue as to where we can excel. After that, it's up to us to develop ourselves and use our God-given gifts for good and valuable purposes. For instance, someone who has a gift to make people laugh could choose to use it to help cheer up sick people, etc.
Q. What do you think is one of your special qualities?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In our story, we refer to the "Most Valuable Player." Is it ever appropriate to judge one person as more "valuable" than someone else? Why or why not?
A. This depends upon our perspective. In the sense what someone does makes his actions more valuable than another's. For instance, someone who dedicates himself to saving lives is certainly doing something more valuable than one who dedicates himself to collecting bottle-caps. However, in terms of who a person is, we can't deem any person more valuable than another. Every person is a creation of God with infinite value. Every one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses and tasks we are meant too accomplish. The world is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. If even one piece (that is, one person) were missing, it would be incomplete. Each individual is an equally valuable and necessary part of God's plan.
Q. In your opinion, is competition something which is beneficial or harmful? Why?
A. It depends. Certainly, competition has the potential to bring out "the best" in us, spurring us on to levels of greatness we wouldn't otherwise reach. Our sages encourage a type of competition among Torah scholars just for that purpose. However, one must be careful to draw the line and ensure that we don't allow the competition to become too personal. There is a danger, when we become too competitive that we might want to put down those we compete against or start to feel "superior" to others. Also, it's important to ask ourselves what are we competing for. If the goal of the competition is really worthwhile, competition can be a powerful tool.
Q. Are you involved in a competitive situation right now? If so, how is affecting you?