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Yitro(Exodus 18-20)

Getting Just What We Need


In this week's Torah portion, God gives the Jewish people the Ten Commandments. One of them teaches us not to covet -- not to be jealous of what others have.

This is more than a lesson in good manners. God is telling us that He is very concerned with each of our lives and makes sure to give everyone exactly what we need to grow and live fulfilled lives.

God is also telling us that what one person has really wouldn't be good for somebody else, even when it doesn't seem that way.

We can learn from here to be happy with what we have and trust that God has given us what's very best for us.

 


In our story a girl realizes that it isn't worthwhile being jealous of what others have.

"CITY BLOCK"

It was late at night -- way past Jennifer's usual bedtime. But she and her sister Lynne were still lying awake, chatting excitedly.

The Rose family had returned that night from their visit to their cousins in the city. It had been an exciting visit and the girls still hadn't calmed down.

"Oh Lynne," exclaimed Jennifer. "I wish we could live in the city. Our cousins are so lucky that they live there. It was so much fun being there, much better than here. They have their own doorman, they get to take an elevator ride each time they go in or out. And that view! Uncle Chester said you could see for 20 miles from out their window!"

Her sister, by now fighting sleep, turned to her. "Yeah, it was nice. But we have a nice view also."

"Oh, it's not at all the same," cut in Jennifer with a sweep of her hand. "All we can see is trees and more trees. From their window you can see the world! They are so lucky to live in the exciting big city instead of these boring old suburbs."

Jennifer waited for a response. Not getting any, she looked over to find her sister peacefully asleep. But Jennifer had no peace that night as her mind kept racing as she imagined the excitement of the city and her longings to have a life like her cousins instead of her own.

Over the next few days, the Rose family settled into their daily routine and forgot about their city visit. But not Jennifer. "It's not fair, I want to live in the city like our cousins," became her constant refrain. She plastered her walls with posters of city-scenes and began to collect shopping bags, newspaper articles, and anything else she could find to remind her of the city.

One day, Jennifer was sitting at her desk reading a novel about, of course, the city. Her sister burst into the room. "Well Jenny," she said. "It looks like you're going to get to live your dream after all."

"What are you talking about?" asked Jennifer, flipping the book onto her bed.

"Next week Mom and Dad are going on their yearly vacation."

"So?"

"So," her sister continued, "They decided that this year it would be too hard for both of us to stay in town with Grandma like we do every year. Instead, they arranged for one of us to spend two whole weeks with Uncle Chester and Aunt Eleanor in the city. To me it doesn't make much difference which place I stay, but I figured you would be happy to go there."

Jennifer's face lit up. "Happy? I'm thrilled! I can't wait to get out of here and start really living."

Time passed quickly. The big day came and Jennifer's parents dropped her off at their cousins' on the way to the airport.

Two weeks later, Mr. Rose, now with a sun tan from his vacation, came to pick up his daughter. He rang the door bell. Immediately the door popped open. It was Jennifer wearing her coat, suitcase in hand. "Let's go dad," she said. "I want to go home!"

Her father looked down, surprised. "I though I'd have to pry you out of here with a crowbar," he joked.

After some brief good-byes, the two of them headed down to the car. Jenny couldn't contain herself any longer. With tears in her eyes she burst out, "I thought I would like it, but I couldn't stand it there. The city is so noisy I barely slept the whole time. Aunt Eleanor said it wasn't safe for the kids to go out alone like we can do at home, so I just sat in the house all day looking out the window. And, you know, I missed our view -- all I could see here was buildings and not a single tree."

Her dad nodded with an understanding smile.

Her dad nodded with an understanding smile.

"I really don't know what I was so jealous about," Jenny sighed. "Where we live is just right ... for me."



Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jenny feel at first about where her cousins lived?
A. She felt it was better than where she lived. She wanted to live there too.

Q. Did she feel differently after she stayed there for two weeks? Why?
A. Yes. She realized that it wasn't as good as she thought it would be. And that her own home was really the best place for her.

Q. Should we feel jealous when other people have what we lack?
A. No. We should remember that whatever God decided to give us or not give us is the very best thing for us.

Ages 6-9

Q. Jennifer wanted nothing more than to live in the big city. But once she got there she wasn't happy. Why do you think we can want something badly, but not be happy once we get it?
A. Jennifer thought that living in the city would make her happier than she was at home. But once she got there she found reasons not to be happy there either.
      When we feel unhappy, we sometimes think that we would be happier if things were different. We sometimes tell ourselves that if only we had this certain thing, all would change for the better.
      But happiness comes not from getting something that we don't have, but rather from learning to appreciate what we do have. It's fine to want nice things. But we shouldn't expect that these things will make us happy.

Q. Can you think of a time you got something that you thought you wanted but it didn't make you happy?

Q. How can a person look at the world in a way that will make him feel less jealous of others?
A. It's helpful to remember that everybody is different. Each person is put in the world with a different lesson to learn. To best learn this lesson God puts each of us in a certain situation. He gives us some things, and He withholds others things. If somebody has something that we don't, it's only because God knows that he needs it and we don't. There's no point in being jealous. If it was really for our best to have it, we would. And if we don't, that's a sign that it's not for us.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think it is possible for another person to take something away from us that we were meant to have? Why or why not?
A. It seems logical to think that if there's only one piece of cake and he takes it, then I've lost out. However, the deeper reality is not like this. God has designed the world with each individual in mind. He sees to it that each of us is provided with exactly what we need to fulfill our ultimate purpose. There is nobody and nothing in the universe that can prevent us from receiving these things. Likewise, it is impossible for us to take away something that was meant for someone else. Any appearance to the contrary is an opportunity sent by God to strengthen our faith and trust in Him.

Q. The Sages teach us that a "rich man is one who is content with what he has." How do you understand this concept? Do you agree?
A. The feeling of wealth or poverty is often very subjective. Someone with a million dollars could suddenly feel poor, while rubbing elbows with a billionaire. While another person, walking the street penniless, could suddenly feel rich when he finds a $20. A feeling of wealth clearly isn't determined by what one does or doesn't have -- it is an attitude of being content with whatever we have. This feeling of contentment is the essence of wealth. And it's accessible to all of us at any moment. By harnessing it we can become rich overnight!

Q. Can you think of a time you got something that you thought you wanted but it didn't make you happy?

 

Published: February 5, 2001

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