We have so many different people in our lives that sometimes we may forget to value and appreciate the people who really care the most about us - our families. In the Torah portion this week, we learn that when the Jewish people were traveling across the desert on the way to Israel, God instructed them to group themselves according to families and maintain strong family identities. Our family is not just a group of people we happen to have been born into and live with, rather they are connected to us in a deep and powerful way. We gain so much when we value our families, and make them a big part of our lives.
In our story, a kid discovers that his family means more to him than he thought.
Steve squirmed in the back seat of his family's van. Sunday was usually a day that he got to spend hanging out doing fun things with his friends, and now he was stuck going on a dumb family trip to the zoo.
It wasn't that he disliked his family or anything, they were okay enough to live with. But he really didn't like to spend a lot of time doing things with them. Compared to the cool gang of friends he liked to hang out with, they were kind of boring, and spending a whole day going around with them just wasn't his idea of a good time.
When they got to the zoo, Steve made it very clear from the beginning that he was on his own. If his family would go slowly and linger at one of the exhibits, he would move faster. When they wanted to move on quickly, he would be sure to lag behind. His parents tried to get him to stay with them, but he wasn't interested and finally they gave up once he promised to stay close by and keep them within sight.
Soon he bumped into a group of kids he knew from school and began to tag along with them. They weren't his close friends of his but at least it was better than being stuck with his family.
These kids liked to move fast and Steve hurried to keep up. At first he would stop every few minutes to glance back at his family like he said he would, but soon it became too distracting and he just started to flow with the crowd.
After a while, the group of kids got ready to leave the zoo. Steve was suddenly on his own and turned to look for his family. He assumed they would be nearby, but they were nowhere in sight.
Steve ran back to the group of kids from his school and spoke to the older kid who seemed to be the leader. "I-I can't find my family... I think I'm kinda lost...."
The guy didn't seem very interested and was in a big rush. "Hmm, that's really too bad," he said distractedly as he flung his bag over his shoulder. "I'm sure you'll find them, but we gotta go now, okay?"
With that, they were gone.
Now what? Steve suddenly felt very alone and scared. He decided to go back along the main path, hoping he'd see his family at one of the exhibits along the way. He checked out one exhibit after another, but still no family in sight. Do they even notice I'm lost? he wondered.
As he walked, Steve noticed lots of families happily enjoying themselves together and felt jealous. He stopped to catch his breath in front of the monkey exhibit. He glanced in and saw a young chimp swinging happily on his mother's arm. Even the monkeys have enough sense to stick with and appreciate their families, he thought to himself.
Panic started setting in and Steve was about to cry when he thought he heard his name being called. He looked up - it was his family! They were walking fast and looked really worried.
"Dad! Dad, I'm over here!" he called out with relief.
They ran up to him, and his mom gave him a big hug. Usually when she did that, especially in public, Steve would pull away all embarrased. But this time he didn't want to let go.
"Steve, we've been searching for you everywhere!" said his dad.
"I know you like to be on your own, but please stay close to us the rest of the trip!" his mother pleaded.
This time Steve didn't need any convincing. Getting lost had showed him how much his family meant to him. Maybe they were not as 'cool' as his friends, but they were something much deeper and more important - through thick and thin they were his and he was theirs. "No problem, Mom!"
Q. How did Steve feel at first about going around the zoo with his family?
A. He didn't feel very close to them and would rather be by himself or with friends.
Q. How did he feel at the end?
A. When he got lost and he saw how alone he felt without them and how much they all cared about each other deep down, he realized how important they really were to him.
Q. What lesson did Steve learn that day at the zoo?
A. He had been taking his family for granted and considered his relationship with them to be more of a burden than anything positive. But even though getting lost was scary, he discovered from the experience that he and his family felt a deep closeness and concern for each other and felt much more connected to them.
Q. Why do you think Steve's family was so much more concerned about him being lost than his school friends were?
A. While friends are an important part of our lives, there is really no substitute for family when it comes to people who care. Our family is the cornerstone of our lives and it's worthwhile to identify with, appreciate, and stay close with them.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think, as in the story, people sometimes enjoy being with their friends more than with their families?
A. The relationship we have with friends, is in a certain sense, less challenging than that we have with our families. We choose our friends because we get along with them, and if the feelings sour we can simply discontinue the friendship. Family is different. We don't choose them, and no matter how well or poorly we get along, we will always be related. This may make the relationship seem more difficult and perhaps less fun, but if we put in the effort to work through the challenges, we have the potential to grow more than through the easier relationship with friends.
Q. What if we want to be close with certain family members, but they appear not to want to be close to us?
A. That isn't an easy situation. It could well be that like Steve in the story, they are not connected to the depth and potential of the family relationship. In such a case we should try to keep the lines of communication open by acting polite and respectfully, and at the same time try to deepen the good relationships we do have, be they with other family members, teachers or friends.