There is nothing wrong with taking what we need, but taking more than we need just because we can, is called being greedy. When our ancestors left the slavery of Egypt and traveled through the desert toward the Land of Israel, God gave them a miraculous super-food called manna. This food came down from the sky, fresh each day, and could taste like whatever you wanted. One of the miracles of the manna was that no matter how much of it a person would go out and gather, when he got home, only exactly as much as he really needed - and not a drop more - would be there. This was to teach them, and us, that it doesn't pay to be greedy.
In our story, a kid learns there's a difference between greed, and what you need.
"ALL YOU CAN EAT"
Jackie's plate was starting to resemble a mountain as she made her way through the line. "Maybe just a couple more of these egg rolls, and another scoop or two of that sweet-and-sour stuff..."
She and her friend, Andrea, had gone out to celebrate acing their latest math test at the Great Wall of China, the all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant-buffet, and Jackie wanted to make sure she got her money's worth and her stomach's worth.
"Isn't this great, Andrea?" she asked, turning to her friend behind her on line. "Hey, what's the matter? Aren't you going to eat?" she asked, looking with surprise at her friend's half-empty plate.
"Of course I'm going to eat," smiled Andrea, "we're at a restaurant, aren't we?"
Jackie stretched hard to reach several thick slices of fresh-cut pineapple. "But we're more than halfway through the line, and I can still see the bottom of your plate."
"In case you've forgotten, this is an all-you-can-eat buffet." As she spoke, she tried hard to find room on her plate for the dozen or so fortune cookies she had grabbed from the basket.
Andrea shrugged. "Okay, so this is an all-you-can eat-buffet, and this," she said looking over her plate, "is just about all I can eat."
Jackie wasn't sure if Andrea really didn't get it or she was only joking, but she was too busy filling up her plate to think about it that much.
As they continued through the line, Jackie took more and more. At last she looked carefully at her packed plate and smiled with satisfaction, convinced that there wasn't enough room left on it for even another pea-pod.
"I think I'm just about ready to sit down. Come on Andrea, pile it up, we're almost at the end of the line."
But her friend only placed a single tiny piece of pineapple on the corner of her plate, and said, "Okay - I took some desert, let's go sit down."
The girls made their way back to their table through the crowded restaurant. Jackie had trouble balancing her plate, and almost lost an egg roll along the way when it began rolling like a runaway log down the side of her food mountain. One of the fortune cookies she had lined up around the edge of her plate prevented it from plopping down onto another diner's lap. She thought she noticed several people pointing at her plate and giggling, but figured they were just jealous over how she was taking advantage of the deal to the max.
They sat down to eat and Jackie began to dig in full-steam. It didn't take long for Andrea finished her modest portion. "Hey that was really yummy, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," said Jackie, "I'm feeling pretty full, but it was worth it."
"Should we get going?" Andrea asked.
"What are you talking about?" Jackie said, waving her hands, "Let's go up and get some more!"
"But you just said you're full. Why do you want to take more?"
"Because we can, that's why."
"So what? Does that mean I have to be greedy and take more even if I'm not hungry, just because I can?"
Jackie rolled her eyes. "But if we don't take as much as possible, then we're not getting the most for our money!"
"So what if we don't?"
"Because if we don't," Jackie huffed in exasperation, "then we will lose out. Get it?"
Andrea gave her a blank look. "Lose out on what?"
Jackie was at a loss for words, but was sure she'd figure out what to say after a couple of more egg rolls. "Look, you do whatever you want. I'm going up to get some more."
After a repeat performance on the buffet line, Jackie sat down to dig in. But after a few minutes she was moving things around her still crowded plate, with a frown on her face. "What's the matter?" asked Andrea.
"I don't know. Nothing really tastes good any more. My egg rolls got soaked with pineapple juice, and there's sweet-and-sour sauce all over my cookies. Plus I'm really, stuffed."
"So what's the problem, just stop eating." said Andrea simply.
Jackie shook her head. "You don't get it. They don't let you take home a doggy bag here. If you don't eat it, you have to leave it here."
"So, I want to enjoy every drop I possibly can."
Andrea shook her head and smiled. "Jackie, think about what you just said...'enjoy every drop.' From the look on your face it seems to me that you would enjoy nothing more than to stop eating."
"I admit I'm more than full, but I want to get the best deal I possibly can."
Andrea smiled, "That is, if you consider forcing yourself to eat food you don't like until your stomach bursts - a good deal."
Jackie thought about it. Her friend had taken much less than she did but was having a much better time. Jackie had been sure she had been acting sensibly by trying to take as much as she could, but maybe she was really being greedy. Jackie put down her chopsticks, and pushed her plate away. "Doggy bag or no doggy bag, I'm finished." As they stood up to leave, Jackie opened one of her soggy fortune cookies, winked at Andrea and pretended to read; "Wise friend will advise, taking more than you really need-y is called being greedy!"
Q. How did Jackie feel at first?
A. She felt she should eat as much as possible because the restaurant allowed her to.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt like taking more than you really wanted, just because you could, was being greedy.
Q. What do you think Jackie learned from her trip to the restaurant?
A. Up until then she had assumed that it was smart to always try to get the most you can, whether you needed or not, and not to do so was being a sucker. But from her friend's words, and her stomachache, she got the message that taking for the sake of taking is being greedy, and usually doesn't even make you happy.
Q. How can we know if it's good to take something that's available, or if we're just being greedy?
A. If we have a good reason for taking something, or plan to use it for a good purpose, that's fine. But if we're taking 'just because we can', or so 'somebody else doesn't get it first', then we have to really consider whether we are being greedy.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you agree with the statement; 'The more we have, the happier we will be.' Why or why not?
A. While certainly it's easier to be happy when we have our basic physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) met, beyond that happiness has very little to do with how much we have, but rather how content we are with whatever we do have. A person living in a tiny, cramped apartment-but contently, is happier than a person in a fifty-room mansion who is jealous of the guy in the seventy room place across the lake.
Q. Should we also try to be content with what we have concerning spiritual things such as our current level of wisdom, kindness, character perfection, etc.?
A. No way. That is when it's time to be greedy and grab as much as we can. Of course we shouldn't step on someone else's toes to get there or we're defeating our purpose, aren't we?