The More We Have
It is natural to feel that the more we have the happier we will be. But the truth is that it doesn't always work that way. In fact, many times getting more than we really need can create new and difficult challenges. This week's Torah portion (32:15) warns the Jewish people to be careful when things get better for them and not to let it go to their heads so they end up with less instead of more.
In our story, a couple of kids discover that sometimes more is less and less is more.
Mr. Goodman shook the real estate broker's hand, and with a big smile, turned to his family who were standing like soldiers in front of the nearby-parked minivan. "Well, it's official guys - welcome to our new home!"
The Goodman twins just couldn't believe it. After living all their lives in a crowded two-bedroom condominium, they were really going to be moving into this big, beautiful palace of a house that stood before them. Why, the backyard alone was nearly the size of the whole condo play area, and their father was even talking about putting in a swimming pool!
But the best part of the whole thing - both boys agreed - was that they were finally, for the first time in their lives, going to each have their own rooms. No more having to squeeze into one bedroom, no more bunk beds. No more having to step over each other to get to their stuff. It was going to be paradise!
After spending one last night together in the same room, (with their parents too, at the local Day's Inn motel, since all their furniture was already packed into the moving van), the boys settled in to their new private rooms, and their crowded condo days began to fade into a distant dream.
But the dream soon began to turn into a nightmare. The problems began the second night there, when Jamie snuggled up into his comfy new single bed, turning in early after a long and exciting day. He was just drifting off when he felt his room begin to shake. He tried pulling his pillow over his ear to block out the noise of blasting music, but it didn't help. Annoyed, he dragged himself out of bed.
It took Stevie a while to realize that the banging on his door wasn't just part of the beat of the loud tunes he was cranking as he comfortably sat back, feet up on his own single bed. Finally he got up to investigate, and found his brother in pajamas, red-faced standing in front of his door.
"Hey, Stevie, turn it down, man! I'm trying to sleep. You know the rules, only headphones after nine o'clock."
"You've got it wrong, buddy," retorted Stevie. "Those used to be the rules. Now we've got our own rooms, and I can listen to music as loud and as late as I want." He slammed the door, and Jamie had no choice but to go back to his room and try to make the best of it.
Early the next morning, the scene repeated itself, but this time the sound blast was coming from the other side of the hall. Stevie looked at his clock and couldn't believe it. He groggily pulled himself out of bed, marched across the hall. What could Jamie be thinking of, blasting music so early? But he just got his own words from the night before thrown back in his face, together with a slammed door.
One thing led to another, and soon the two brothers, who had always managed to get along pretty well, found themselves at war. They each dug themselves into their 'own territory', put locks on their doors, and mean looking signs warning each other to keep out, 'or else.' Whereas once they used to freely share between them, now every possession was jealously guarded, lest it fall into 'enemy hands.'
Things went from bad to worse when their dad hit them with the news that because his new office was being renovated, he would have to work at home for a week, and the only place he could set up his temporary office was in one of their bedrooms, which meant they would have to go back to sharing a room in the meantime.
The twins groaned. True, they had shared a room before, but that was back when they were friends. Now they were at war and it would be a disaster. But with no choice the boys grudgingly moved into one room, and prepared for the worst. After all if they couldn't get along in two rooms, how could they ever survive in one?
Things were tense at first, but then a funny thing happened. Maybe because they were used to living together for so long, or maybe because without their private territory to retreat to, they had no choice but to get along, and things began to get better between them. First they started talking, then even laughing. Within a few days they were playing and sharing just like the good old days.
After a week when their father's renovations were complete, he showed up with a mover to clear his stuff out, and let the boys know they could move back into separate rooms. As he walked out the boys looked at each other.
"That's great news, huh Stevie?" said Jamie unenthusiastically.
"Yeah, I guess it is," answered his brother flatly.
That evening when their dad got home, he went upstairs to call the boys for dinner. Opening one of the bedroom doors, he was surprised to see it as empty as it had been when he moved out that morning. He went to the other room, and found the boys still packed in together, playing and laughing. "Hey, what's up guys?" he asked.
Jamie looked at Stevie and Stevie back at Jamie, until he finally spoke up. "Well Dad, I know it sounds funny but if you don't mind, we like it better this way. For us, two rooms weren't enough room, and one room is just right."
Instead of getting mad, their father smiled, and said, "I'm proud of your decision, boys, and that you've realized that just because you live in a big house, you don't have to have a big head."
Q. How did the boys feel at first about getting their own rooms?
A. They were excited, and felt like it was going to make them happier.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They were happier being together even though there was less room.
Q. Why do you think the boys got along worse once they got their own rooms, even though they had more space?
A. When they had less and shared a room they tried to make the best of it and compromised, so they got along well. But once they got more space, they began to feel like they could have things their own way, and this led to fights and conflicts.
Q. Can money buy happiness?
A. It can certainly help us to get the things we think will make us happy, but really happiness is an attitude of feeling content with whatever we have now - whether it is a lot or a little, and this feeling is something that money can never buy.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Who in your opinion will find it easier to feel close to God: one who is poor or one who is rich? Why?
A. The most common way we build a relationship with God is through turning to Him for our needs, and developing a trust that He will provide them. A wealthy person generally has all that he needs and more, so it is easy for him to 'forget' about God, which weakens the feeling of being connected. A poor person often finds himself in a position where he can only turn to God, and through this the relationship grows.
Q. Our sages teach that a person who had 100 coins desires 200, and someone with 200 desires 400. How do you understand this statement?
A. The desire to acquire wealth is really a disguised attempt to attain happiness and contentment. A discontent person, wherever he is on the financial ladder, tends to naturally feel that if he only had a little more than he does now, he would be happy. But once he achieves his goal, and discovers that happiness didn't come attached to that extra zero in his bank account, he can easily make the mistake of believing that the next zero on the end of the number will. But it's not so. Contentment begins with becoming content with what we have now, and then if we choose we can work to make them even better.