Following instructions in order to learn a valuable skill isn't limiting - it's liberating. On Shavuot, we celebrate the day God gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Torah is God's 'instructions for living,' an all-inclusive guide to help us develop the skill of living and enjoying life to the fullest. Therefore, when we celebrate Shavuot, we are not only commemorating a historic event, but celebrating the receiving of a gift of ancient, yet timeless wisdom that can powerfully enhance our lives every day.
In our story, a kid discovers that sometime what looks like giving up some freedom can really be the key to much more freedom.
"HITTING A HIGH NOTE"
"I don't know if we're good, but at least we're loud!" laughed Gary, yelling over racket coming from the amplified pair of electric guitars.
He and his friend, Rob, decided to form a two-man band to play some of their favorite music together. Neither of them really knew how to play an instrument, but that didn't stop them from jamming away, turning Gary's garage into their 'studio' and treating the neighborhood to two hours of off-key tunes every afternoon - all at top volume.
One day the boys were in the middle of a particularly grating jam session when they heard what sounded like a drum beat coming from the garage door. Soon enough they realized it wasn't a drum - it was someone knocking loudly.
"Oh, oh," Gary said. "We're in trouble now. That's probably old Mr. Isaacs from next door. I'll bet we woke him up from his nap and he's coming to yell at us."
Gary nervously opened the door. It was Mr. Isaacs all right. He looked tired, but not particularly angry.
"Boys, I see you love music," he said with a sigh. "I can understand that, because I love music too. In fact, you don't know it, but many years ago I used to be a professional jazz musician."
The boys looked at each other in wide-eyed surprise, as the older man went on.
"I didn't come here to ask you to stop playing, but rather to make a deal with you. How about once or twice a week you come over to my house and I'll give you free music lessons. I think a little instruction will help you enjoy playing your music more, and..." he added with a wink, "might just help your neighbors enjoy it more, too."
It sounded good to the boys, and they showed up the next day, as planned with their instruments in tow. Mr. Isaacs patiently sat with them and gave them some exercises to practice, assuring them that if they followed his instructions carefully they would soon be making beautiful music together.
A couple of days later, Gary stopped by Rob's place to pick him up for the next music lesson set for that evening. But his friend balked. "I'm not going," Rob said.
"The lessons are too restricting. I just want to jam the way I feel like, and not limit myself by following any set lessons and instructions."
Gary could hear his friend's point, but still felt having the chance to learn from a pro was worth it, so he kept going to the lessons by himself.
One day the boys were cranking away at one of their jam sessions, Rob was amazed when Gary, instead of his usual scratchy off key sound, started playing a really sweet sounding guitar solo. "Hey cool! How did you manage to do that?" Rob asked.
"Oh, that was something Mr. Isaacs taught me last night," Gary answered matter-of-factly. He kept playing and Rob was impressed - but not enough to pin himself down with guitar lessons.
As time went on, Rob couldn't help noticing that Gary was starting to sound more and more like a real musician and he was still hacking away like an amateur. But more than that, Rob noticed that Gary was having a great time using all the new skills he had been learning. He didn't look like he felt restricted at all.
"Okay, just put your fingers on the stings like this and there you've got it!" said Mr. Isaacs enthusiastically as he and Gary sat down to another music lesson. Just then the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," said Gary, wanting to spare the older man who had been helping him so much from having to walk across the room.
He opened the door and was greeted by the sight of Rob, guitar case slung over his shoulder. "Room for one more at the lesson?" he asked sheepishly.
"Sure but I thought you didn't want to be stuck taking lessons?"
"I know, but after seeing how much you've gotten from the lessons, I realize taking instructions isn't a prison that's going to restrict my music - it's actually what I need to get the skills to stay on key and really play free."
Q. How did Rob feel at first about taking music lessons?
A. He didn't want to take them. He felt he would have more fun if he just played without anyone telling him what to do.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how Gary was able to play so much better because of the lessons, and realized he would have even more fun once he learned the skills of how to play right, too.
Q. What lesson can we learn from the story?
A. A person might think that happiness comes from being free to do things however they feel like doing those things, without any guidelines or rules. But if the rules are really tools to gain an important skill, then by following them he will gain much more than he loses.
Q. How does our story connect to the holiday of Shavuot?
A. The Torah, which we celebrate on Shavuot, is actually a set of instructions for acquiring the ultimate skill -living a happy and successful life. By taking advantage of the chance to learn and follow the Torah's instructions, we'll be giving ourselves powerful tools that will help us all of our lives.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think it would be possible to devise a man-made philosophy or code for living as comprehensive and as successful as the Torah? Why or why not?
A. A sensitive and wise person might be able to devise a reasonably successful code of living, but it would never approach the depth and all-inclusiveness found in the Torah. The Torah isn't man-made; it's God given. Since God made us, He knows the deepest secrets of the psyche and the soul, and knows what system of living will ultimately bring the greatest success and happiness to the individual, society, and planet.
Q. Does a person sacrifice his free choice by following the Torah's set guidelines for life?
A. Free choice, in its deepest and most meaningful sense, isn't whether to wear a black or purple (or no) tie. Rather, it is the ethical choice one makes of whether to live and behave according to his core values in the face of momentary desires to do otherwise. In that context, someone who is trying to live according to Torah values, which provide an ethical framework for every life situation, will find his free choice exercised constantly and by staying true to his values will develop into a truly ethical, sensitive and spiritual person.