The Effort To Grow
This time of year, the 49 days between the Passover and Shavuot holidays, is called the 'Period of the Counting of the Omer' (Sefirat Ha-Omer in Hebrew). Each of these days, Jews around the world mark the period by verbally counting off the number of days that have passed, counting up as we get closer to Shavuot, the day we received the Torah.
This period is a special time for personal growth and for feeling closer to God as it connects Passover and all the miracles God did for us when He took us out of slavery in Egypt to Shavuot and God's giving us the great and precious Torah.
During the time period people work on improving themselves each day, putting in the effort to prepare ourselves for receiving the Torah. By doing this we can feel even closer to God than we could by passively witnessing a miracle, since we enjoy something more if we put in an effort to acquire it.
It's not too late to start, and if we do, by the time Shavuot arrives we'll be really ready to receive the Torah and the pleasure of all of its wisdom for living.
Our story is about a kid who experiences first hand the sweetness putting in the effort to grow.
"TAKING HOLD OF THE WHEEL"
It had been a great vacation for the entire Levy family. Mom and Dad loved having some time out from their busy city schedule to enjoy the quiet, refreshing mountain air, and the Levy kids loved the non-stop program of sports and activities that the hotel offered.
Each late afternoon the kids would race to the activity room to see what surprise would be posted on the board for the next day. TOMMORROW: GUIDED BIKE TRIP TO GOLDEN LAKE said the sign that day.
"Sounds good!" said Brad Levy to his brothers Jerry and Mike. "Let's run over to the equipment room and get our bikes now."
They got there and started going through the shiny rows of bikes. But while Brad and Jerry were getting more excited, young Mike was getting more nervous. "Hey, don't any of these bikes come with training wheels?" he asked the man in charge hopefully.
The man shook his head. "Sorry son, all out."
"Oh no! How am I going to go on the bike trip if I can't get a bike with training wheels?"
"Maybe you can take one without them?" Brad suggested. "I'm sure you could do it if you really tried."
Mike just bit his lip and shook his head. True, his parents and brothers had been coaxing him and trying to teach him to ride without training wheels for a while now, but he just felt like he wasn't ready. Even though most kids his age were riding already, he liked the safe and easy feeling of coasting along on the training wheels. At home, it wasn't an issue but now he's going to lose out...
"Well, I guess you'll just have to stay here watching the grass grow while we take the trip tomorrow," Brad said when he realized Mike wasn't going to budge. He and Jerry checked out the two nicest bikes and sped off, leaving Mike to take the long walk back to their cottage alone.
It's so unfair! Mike thought to himself. Why didn't they have a bike I could ride? He stood there looking at the bikes longingly.
"Feel free to give it a try, son."
It was the equipment man. "I'm closing up in an hour. Until then you're welcome to try out any of the bikes."
Mike was about to explain, but the man turned to help some more kids who showed up. It seemed like no one was going to miss out on this great trip - except for him.
What's the point of even trying? He turned to leave, but then changed his mind. Mike figured he really had nothing to lose. He picked out a bike about the same size of his bike back home and sat down on the seat. He looked around to make sure no one was watching and then pushed off with his feet. He glided about two yards before he lost his balance and fell.
"No problem, son!" It was the equipment man. "Just keep trying and you'll be riding in no time. If you need any pointers, just ask."
"Uh thanks." Mike wasn't sure he agreed, but he sat back up to try it again...
The next morning Brad and Jerry got ready to ride their bikes to the entrance of the hotel grounds from where the trip was leaving. It was perfect biking weather. "Too bad Mike's going to miss this," said Jerry as he strapped on his helmet.
All of the sudden they heard the ring of a bicycle bell. "Hey aren't you guys gonna wait for me?" It was Mike and he was riding without training wheels!
"Great! Let's go!" Brad yelled. And the three brothers rode off together, the older boys making sure to stick close to Mike. But after a few moments they saw Mike was doing just fine on his own.
Q. How did Mike feel at first when he found out there weren't any bikes with training wheels?
A. He felt down, and that the only way he could go on the trip was with training wheels.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how he could really do it if he tried, and that effort to learn was worth it because it was much more fun to ride on his own.
Q. What life lesson do you think Mike learned in this story?
A. He had thought it was more enjoyable to take the easy way out and ride with training wheels, but at the hotel, if he wanted to go on the bike trip he had no choice but to learn how to ride by himself. From this he discovered the great pleasure that comes from trying hard to grow and doing something yourself instead of taking the easy way out.
Q. Why do you think this is?
A. A person's greatest pleasure in life is to feel like he's growing and accomplishing. When we just sit back, it might be comfortable for a while, but in the end, we will only feel happy and satisfied if we are willing to push our limits and grow.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you agree that a person enjoys something he puts in an effort to acquire more than something that comes effortlessly? Why, or why not?
A. When we work for something, it awakens a recognition of the value of what we're working to achieve. When we finally reach our goal, it is much sweeter than if we just had it handed to us. Besides this, something we get without effort is always accompanied by a subtle feeling of shame that reduces our pleasure. Only when we earn something are we fully able to enjoy it.
Q. Part of the self-improvement program of the omer period is to work on only one small specific trait each day. Do you think this is an effective way to grow or is it better to try to do more at one time?
A. Our sages teach us that if we try to grab too much at once, we will end up grabbing nothing. When it comes to self-improvement, slow and steady wins the race.