Ups and Downs
All relationships have their ups and downs. There are times when friends can feel very close to each other and get along great, and other times when there are fights and conflicts. When these down times come, we have to make a choice: do we stay loyal and work things out, or just let the friendship fade away?
In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the history of 'ups and downs' in the relationship between God and the Jewish people. One thing we see is that no matter what, God always stayed loyal, and never gave up on us, even when we didn't act as we should. This can serve as a model for our relationships with our friends or relatives. If we don't give up when things get tough, but remain loyal and work it through, we'll see that we come out of it with even a stronger bond than before.
In our story, a boy faces the loyalty choice.
Steve 'Blu' Bluestone lived in the middle of his street. He wasn't homeless or anything, in fact he and his family had a very nice house. It just happened to be exactly the 20th house out of the 40 houses on Oakwood Lane. Living on that spot wasn't a big deal, except for the fact that all the kids on the street, as long as anyone could remember, would always split up into teams for the neighborhood pick-up basketball games according to which end of the street they lived on. Since Steve, who was one of the best players in the neighborhood, lived in the middle, he could pick whichever side he wanted.
Ever since the day he first moved to the neighborhood, Steve chose to play for the 'Upstreeters,' the kids living on the first half of the street. They soon became good friends, and the guys were very happy to have such a star on their team, even though the other team, the 'Downstreeters,' were more than a bit jealous.
One day, Steve and Phil, the captain of the Upstreeters, got into a big fight in the middle of a game about who was going to get to shoot the ball, and Steve got really angry. He said he quit and stormed off in a rage. Everyone figured the fight would blow over and Steve would get over it. But the next two days when Steve didn't show up to play, it looked like he and the team were through.
The next afternoon Steve was at home, shooting some hoops in his driveway. "Hey, good shot!" called out a voice, startling the boy. He turned around, and was surprised to see Zack, the captain of the 'Downstreeters,' the other team, standing there wearing a wide grin. Before Steve could ask any questions, the kid made the reason for his visit very clear.
"I hear you quit the 'competition,' and I'm here to invite you to join our team as the starting center, and you can shoot whenever you want."
Steve didn't know what to say. True, he was really down on Phil and his teammates, and had been staying home, but he hadn't actually thought about joining the other team.
"Just say the word and the position is yours," Zack said. "Better yet, just show up on our side of the court tomorrow at game time, and that will say it all. Their loss will be our gain!" Zack waved good-bye as he turned to leave, laughing at his sudden good fortune.
At first Steve was shocked about the possibility of playing for the other team. But as he thought more about it, the idea didn't sound half bad. So what if he switched teams? After all, he did live on the middle of the road!
The following afternoon, Steve strapped on his high-top sneakers and headed out to the playground. He felt excited about starting his first day as a 'Downstreeter.' When he got close to the basketball courts and saw his team - or make that his ex-team - the 'Upstreeters' lining up to play, Steve got a lump in his throat. They were all guys he knew so well, good friends, especially Phil. It would really hurt them once they would see that he jumped teams. Could he just walk out on them without trying to work things out? But it was their fault - they shouldn't have treated him that way.
As he got closer, Zack, the other captain, was first to notice him and gave him a sly wink. He caught the attention of Steve's old team and called out triumphantly, "Hey guys! Look who's coming. You guys are in for a big surprise!"
But the big surprise was on Zack, as Steve walked right past him, and back to his old teammates who welcomed him with backslaps and high-fives.
Phil shook Steve's hand and the two friends apologized to each other, promising to try to compromise from now on. Zack stood on his side of the court with his mouth hanging open. Steve turned to him and said, "Sorry man, no deal. I thought about it and these guys are my team, through thick and thin. I can't just walk out on them. I'm loyal, and I'm back - to stay."
Q. How did Steve feel at first about changing teams?
A. He thought it was okay since he had gotten into a fight with his old teammates.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like he wanted to stay loyal to his friends, by staying on their team.
Q. What does it mean to be loyal?
A. Loyalty means that we take our friendships, and other thing we are committed to, seriously. That even if something happens to make the relationship difficult, or we get what seems like a better offer, we don't just walk away, but are willing to stick with what we have and try to make things better.
Q. Is there ever a time when it's okay to end a friendship?
A. It can be that two people just can't manage to get along, or one person is really being harmful to the other. Then the right thing to do would be to let the friendship cool. But other than this, we shouldn't take our friendships lightly, and we should try to remain loyal if we can.
Q. What would you have done if you were Steve?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What does it mean that God is loyal to us?
A. God loves each of us more than we can possibly imagine. His love to us is unconditional. Whatever we do, He stays loyal to us and continues to guide us in the way that will bring us to our greatest good. Even if we may forget about Him, He never forgets about us.
Q. How can we be loyal to Him?
A. Part of it is to build our trust in Him. Although everything God does is good, sometimes that good can be hard for us to understand. At those times, we can show our loyalty by not pulling away, but accept and trust that one day we will see the good.