Close to Someone Far
There are different ways of being close to someone else. One way is to be physically near him, but another, more spiritual way to be close is to try to learn from and emulate his good qualities. When in this week's portion the Torah instructs us to make ourselves close to, or cleave to God, it doesn't mean by trying to get to heaven in a space ship. Rather, it means to think about and emulate God's qualities such as kindness, patience, fairness, etc. This is the true measure of how close a person is to God.
In our story, a kid learns how to be close to someone far away.
"NEXT BEST THING TO BEING THERE"
Janet waved the seashell in front her like a treasure as she ran over to her mother's beach chair. "Mom, look at this beauty. I can't wait to bring this home and show Grandma..."
Janet felt a lump in her throat as she stopped herself in mid-sentence. She wasn't going show this to her grandmother. In fact, she wasn't going to see her at all any more.
Although it had been several months since her grandmother had passed away, Janet still couldn't get used to the fact that the person she felt closer to than anyone else in the world just wasn't there anymore. Her parents had tried everything, including this special trip to the beach to cheer her daughter up, but nothing helped. The girl angrily threw the seashell down and hid her face behind her hands. Who needed any dumb shells now that she couldn't show them to Grandma any more?
"Hey Janet," said her mom, "Let's you and I take a walk along the beach and watch the waves." She knew this was one of Janet's favorite things to do, and hoped it would make her feel better.
The girl shrugged and half-heartedly went along. The two of them walked along the edge of the water, cool waves licking their feet from time to time. Janet began to pour out her heart to her mom, telling her about how hard it was for her now that Grandma was so far away.
Suddenly a big red, white and blue beach ball came bounding their way, with a small crying child frantically chasing after it. Janet noticed that all the people walking in front of them were looking on and shaking their heads in pity, but nobody was doing anything to help.
Acting fast, and mustering all of her talents as goalie on her school soccer team, Janet quickly moved to her right and pounced on the runaway ball. She handed it with a smile to the still crying toddler. "It's, okay. It's okay now," she said with a warm, reassuring smile that immediately calmed down the little girl, who gratefully took her ball and walked away.
"Good job!" smiled her mom. "You really jumped in to save the day."
Brushing off the sand she had managed to acquire on her dive, Janet said, "Well, didn't Grandma always say that someone else's problem is our problem too?"
"That's right," said her mom, pausing a moment in thought, then going on with a smile. "Janet, you said that Grandma's far away, but from what I can see, your Grandmother is right next to you."
The girl didn't understand. "Mom, what do you mean? Isn't Grandma..."
"I mean, the way you cared enough to get yourself dirty to help that little kid, just like Grandma would have. Also the way you knew just how to calm her down - just like your grandmother gently used to calm you when you were little. You learned so many good things from her, and they'll always be a part of you. And that means that Grandma will always be a part of you too, close as can be."
Janet smiled. Maybe her mom was right. She was always thinking about Grandma and trying to be like her. Maybe they weren't so far away after all.
Mother and daughter walked on, enjoying the sparkling reflection of the sun on the ocean as it began to set behind the horizon. Janet felt close to her beloved Grandma once more, and knew that that though she would always miss her, perhaps the sun was finally beginning to rise again.
Q. How did Janet feel about her Grandma at first?
A. She felt sad and far away from her.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw that she had learned a lot of good things from her Grandma, and that made her feel close to her.
Q. Why did Janet feel better after talking with her mom if her grandmother was still far away from her?
A. Although she wasn't any physically closer to her grandmother, she felt spiritually closer once she realized that she had made many of her Grandma's good traits part of her life.
Q. Do you think this feeling of closeness will increase or decrease as time goes on?
A. While it is likely that the passage of time will make certain memories and feelings fade, Janet, if she chooses to, can keep her deep-down sense of her grandmother's nearness strong, and even grow, the more she appreciates her good traits, and makes them a part of her own life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is one person really closer to God than someone else?
A. Ultimately, as God created us, and constantly sustains us, we are all as close to him as could be. However, our ability to feel and benefit from that closeness depends on our choice of whether to behave in a good, 'Godly' way, or not. In that sense we become closer to God by acting more closely like God.
Q. Can a human being really understand God's ways in order to emulate them?
A. The Torah is full of teachings that directly or indirectly show the ways of God, and how He interacts with His creation. While in the absolute sense, we can never fully understand God, He has given us the Torah, to learn from His ways and apply them in our lives, for the best good of the world.