Use Your Abilities
Different things are expected from different people. In this week's Torah portion, we learn about how a certain offering requirement in the Tabernacle would vary depending on the giver's ability to give. A poor person would have to give less, a rich person more. The point is that God wants us to always try to do our best according to our abilities. Nothing more - and nothing less.
In our story a couple of kids get a big lesson from a tiny ant.
"LIFE'S A PICNIC"
Rebecca Feldman spread out the bright, red-checkered tablecloth on the ground and plunked down the cooler full of fresh made sandwiches and other goodies. She and her brother, Gary, had decided to take advantage of the beautiful early spring afternoon by going on a picnic in the woods behind their house.
"What'll it be - cheese or peanut butter and jelly?" Rebecca asked.
Gary didn't say anything. He just sat there rubbing his hand through the grass distractedly.
"Hellloo! Anybody home in there?"
"Huh?" Gary sputtered.
"I'm asking you what kind of sandwich you want."
"Oh sorry, Becky. Doesn't make a difference, whatever kind is fine."
"Hey, what's with you? Whenever we go on picnics you usually dive into the cooler before I can even put it down, and today you're Mr. Gloom and Doom," she said as she set out the sandwiches and drinks, carefully checking the tablecloth for ants first.
Gary sighed. "Well I'm mad about the math mid-term test I brought home today."
Rebecca shook her head. "You, the family brain, mad about a test? What happened? Did you only get a 99 instead of a 100 or something? Hey, these ants are everywhere, but at least they like my sandwiches."
"Very funny," Gary said. "No, what's bothering me is that yesterday when Davy brought home his test from school, Mom and Dad made such a big thing out of it. Dad even said he was going to buy him a present. Now I bring home a test with the exact same grade - B+ - and all they said to me was 'very nice,' and acted like it was no big deal. It's not fair!"
Rebecca crossed her arms and shook her head. "Come on Gary! How can you compare your test to Davy's?"
"Because Davy studied like crazy for that test. I even got up in the middle of the night once last week to get a drink and saw Davy still sitting at his desk with his math book! Between you and me, Gary, did you even take your math book out of you book bag once to study for that test?"
"Of course I did!" Gary protested.
"Really?" Becky said while giving him one of her x-ray vision stares.
"Okay, I admit it was on the bus ride to school on the day of the test, but still..."
The girl laughed, "So what do you expect? Let's face it, nobody in the family is the math whiz you are. Davy worked really hard to get his grade, and you just coasted by. Of course Mom and Dad are going to make a bigger deal about his accomplishment." She handed him a cup. "You want some ice-tea?"
"No thank you, I'm not thirsty. And by the way, you're not being fair either. Is it my problem if the test was easier for me than it was for Davy? A B+ is a B+, and if we got the same grade, we deserve the same credit." Gary suddenly stopped talking and his eyes grew wide. "Hey Becky, take a look at that ant!" he said pointing excitedly.
"I've seen more than enough today already, thank you."
"No really, look. That one over there is dragging a whole blade of grass behind him. It must be ten times his size!"
Rebecca shrugged, plucked up a piece of grass from the ground and waved it in front of Gary's face. "So what? I can also pick up a blade of grass. Why aren't you getting goo-goo eyed over me?"
"Are you serious? That ant is tiny. For him, lifting a piece of grass is a big deal. For you it's nothing."
"But a blade of grass is a blade of grass. Is it my problem that I'm bigger than the ant?" Rebecca smiled and threw the piece of grass at her brother like a spear.
Gary quickly ducked to the side and laughed. "Okay, okay ... I get your point. Davy should get more credit for working so hard to pass his test."
"Great! Now if you don't mind, can we please eat our sandwiches before these ants drag them away too?"
Q. How did Gary feel at first about the test he brought home?
A. He felt it wasn't fair that even though he and Davy got the same grade, his brother got more credit from his parents.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like since his brother, Davy had to work harder for his grade than he did, he really deserved more credit after all.
Q. What did Rebecca teach Gary by picking up the blade of grass?
A. Gary had felt that he deserved as much credit as Davy for getting the same grade on the test as he did. Rachel showed him that just as it was a much bigger deal for a tiny ant to pick up a piece of grass than it was for a person to, it was also a much bigger deal for Davy, who wasn't naturally as strong in math as Gary to get the same grade as he did.
Q. Who should feel better: someone who succeeds at something without trying, or someone who tries his best but fails? Why?
A. It might seem as if the one who succeeds has more to feel good about, after all he succeeded. But true success in life isn't measured by how much we accomplish, rather by how hard we try, so actually the one who tries his best is the real success.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. A Jewish sage once said, 'When I stand before God, He isn't going to ask me why I wasn't as great as Moses; He is going to ask me whether I was as great as myself.' What do you think that statement means?
A. Each of us has a different potential, our own set of abilities and challenges. God knows this, as He is the one who gave them to us. The sage was teaching that our spiritual goal is not to measure ourselves against someone else - in this case, Moses, who might well have had a greater potential than he did, but rather to measure ourselves against ourselves. That is, ask ourselves whether we are accomplishing all we can according to our unique potential. That is all that God asks of us, and that is what we should ask of ourselves.
Q. How can we know whether or not we are fulfilling our potential?
A. We should ask ourselves two questions:
- Is what we are trying to do both worthwhile, and suited to our nature and abilities?
- Are we are putting in our best effort?
If the answer to both of these questions is 'yes,' we can be pretty confident that we are on the right track in life.