Many times life requires us to make transitions from something old and familiar to something new. It's not always easy to face these changes, but they are a necessary part of growth. This week's Torah portion (the first in the book of Deuteronomy) begins the transition Jewish People had to make from their familiar life of the last 40 years in the wilderness, to prepare for what would be the very different life they would be leading in the Land of Israel. Although Moses, their leader, knew life in Israel would be a good thing for the people, it still wouldn't be easy to face a change, so he spent quite a bit of time preparing and encouraging them, making sure the transition would be successful. The key to remember is that whenever God expects us to make a transition, He will give us just the tools we need to succeed.
In our story, a boy, a teacher and a couple of frogs get a lesson about making successful transitions.
"TAKING THE LEAP"
I looked over my nature studies test before I turned it in and smiled. Usually I was so careful to make sure I got the answers right. But this time I was being just as careful to make sure I got every answer wrong. This may sound funny to you, but wouldn't you do the same thing if failing meant to pass, and passing meant to fail? Confused? Let me explain.
You see I had been in the same school since first grade. Maybe I didn't love this school, but one thing for sure, I was used to it. I knew everybody and they knew me. I knew what you could and couldn't do. But next year all this was going to change since our class was all moving up to the regional junior high school. This meant a big new school, new people, and new rules.
Some of the kids in my class were excited about the move, and so was I - that is until the day I was playing ball with my friend Todd, his older brother Richard and his friend. Rich and his friend were a couple of years older than us so they had already made the big move. I heard them talking to each other about how much homework they had to do that night, and how they would get in trouble if they didn't hand it in on time. They spoke about classes with strange names like calculus, trigonometry and anthro-something. If I hadn't known they were speaking English, I could have sworn they were talking Chinese. I decided then and there that there was no way I could handle a school like that.
So I made a plan: If I failed all my courses this year, I would get to stay back in school, and I wouldn't have to move on to the new school! Brilliant, no? I thought so too, and everything was going great until Mr. Resnick, my nature studies teacher asked me to come speak to him after class.
"Martin, what is all this about?" he asked me, waving my perfectly awful test in front of my face.
I guess he wondered why a kid who just about always gets 90's on his tests, suddenly got a zero. Now if it were any other teacher I would have just shrugged my shoulders and given a good bluff. But Mr. Resnick was a special, super nice guy, who really cared about us kids, so I just kind of melted and told him the truth. I told him about how I would never make it in the new school and I told him about my plan to get out of it.
He sat back and crossed his eyebrows like he was thinking. I didn't know if he was going to like my plan, or yell at me, or what. Like I said, he was a nice guy and all, but a teacher is still a teacher. After a minute or so, he asked me to come with him to the nature lab. That wasn't so bad. Our class hadn't used the lab for a while, and I always liked going in there to see all the neat stuff, especially the big eco-tank in the middle of the room. But why did he want us to go there now?
Soon enough I got my answer. "Come look at the tank," Mr. Resnick said. "Do you see anything new?"
I sure did. Last time the tank had been full of tadpoles; now there were hardly any of them left, and the whole thing was full of these little jumping frogs on the sand at the edge of the water.
"Yeah, the tadpoles grew up into frogs," I told him, hoping now that I had answered the question correctly, I could go.
But Mr. Resnick, smiling and nodding, didn't look like he was done with me yet. "That's right. Every one of these frogs you see used to be tadpoles. But as you know, tadpoles can only swim and live in the water, so how can they now possibly survive on land?"
Was he trying to give me an oral test to make up the written one I had just worked so hard to flunk? He knew I knew the answer, so I figured I'd better get at least this one right. "You taught us how their lungs develop, and they grow legs just before they leave the water."
"Correct. Now tell me Martin, do you think when these things were still tadpoles they would have ever thought they would be able to leave the water, get up on dry land, and make it in 'frog school?' How could they? They were helpless, legless tadpoles until it was time for them to move up to the land. Then God gave them the legs and lungs they needed, just when they needed them, and turned them into frogs."
I got his point. "So, you're saying that when I have to move up to junior high, God will give me the 'legs' that I need to make it there, too, and handle all that new stuff, right?"
He nodded, and handed me back my test to take again. You can bet this time I aced it. I'm still a little nervous about 'taking the leap' into the new school next year, but I know somehow God will work it out so I'll be able to handle it. After all, a guy can't spend his whole life as a tadpole, can he?
Q. How did Martin feel at first about having to move up to another school?
A. He felt scared that he didn't know enough to be able to handle it.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. His teacher helped him feel better and realized that when it would be time to move up, God would help him to know what he needed to be able to make it.
Q. Why are transitions scary? How can we make them less so?
A. It is natural to feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings since we more or less know what to expect. A transition means to leave a lot of that comfortable familiarity behind, and that can be scary. However, it is almost impossible to grow in life without having to experience some sort of transition. It can be very helpful if we remind ourselves of that, and also that what we call familiar now quite likely once called upon us to make a transition, and just as we successfully did it then, we can do it now.
Q. What lesson did Martin learn from the tank of frogs?
A. He had felt apprehensive and unprepared to move up into a new, more difficult school. His teacher cleverly showed him that just as the tadpoles got their legs just as it was time for them to move up onto the land, so too we often only get the tools we need to succeed in a new situation once we get there.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, should a person seek to constantly expand his horizons, or is it better to maintain the status quo?
A. Each has its time and place. Spiritually a person should always be 'on the move,' constantly trying to perfect his character traits, and strengthen his relationship with God. In the realm of the material, while there is nothing wrong with working to attain his normal, reasonable needs, the ideal is to try to be content with our status quo, and reserve our time and energy for the spiritual accomplishments which will pay us dividends forever.
Q. Can we ever find ourselves in a situation for which we simply lack the tools to handle successfully?
A. No. Our sages teach us that God always gives us the tools we need to succeed. Now this doesn't mean that success will manifest itself in the way we would envision it. For instance, someone's success in the face of a loss might not be in recouping that loss but rather in peacefully coming to grips with it. But we can rest assured that in whatever situation we find ourselves, God is right there with us, planting within us all we need to spiritually succeed. All we have to do is turn to Him.