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Ekev(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

Effort for Pleasure


Often, the most worthwhile and pleasurable things in life don't come easily. This week's Torah portion teaches us about the unique spiritual greatness of the Land of Israel that God gave as an everlasting gift to the Jewish people. Yet it also teaches that it would require effort to receive the pleasure of this special gift. For example, acquiring water in Israel would not be as easy as it was in Egypt. We can learn from this the valuable lesson of not letting fear of discomfort or difficulty stop us from living life to the fullest.

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In our story, a kid learns the difference between comfort and pleasure.

"NO SWEAT"

"Easy does it." That was Tracy's motto. She was the kind of kid who prided herself on the ability to find the easiest possible way to do anything. So when Wendy, her camp counselor, told the kids they had a choice of either hiking up the mountain to their next day's overnight camp-out or riding up in the equipment van, you can bet what she chose.

"Why don't you hike it with me instead?" urged her friend, Hillary. "Wendy said it's one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the country."

"Are you nuts? If man was meant to walk, he wouldn't have discovered the wheel. Speaking of which, why don't you catch a ride, too?

"No way! Life's too short to miss out on it by taking the easy way out."

Tracy didn't really understand what her friend meant by 'missing out on life' but she didn't bother asking because she wanted to get to sleep early to conserve her energy for the next day's trip.

The next morning, Tracy's alarm went off. As usual, she hit her snooze button a few times before finally dragging herself out of bed, so she wasn't too surprised that the rest of the kids were already up and out.

She grabbed her stuff and walked down to the camp parking lot where the van was supposed to be waiting, but when she got there she didn't see any van. Just the counselor, Hillary, and a couple of other kids all wearing backpacks.

"Hey, where's the van?" Tracy nervously asked.

"Oh, it left a little while ago, at 8:00 sharp, just like it said on the schedule," said Hillary. Tracy looked at her watch - 8:15.

"Oh no! I missed the ride! Now what do I do?"

"Hate to break it to ya' pal, but it looks like you're hiking with us after all," Hillary smiled.

Tracy's face fell. "What? You actually expect me to walk up that whole mountain? That's cruel and inhumane punishment!"

Hillary laughed. "Don't worry, Tracy. You'll survive. And you know what? By the time we reach the top, you're going to be happy that you missed the van instead of missing out on life."

Not likely, Tracy thought. She was really upset, but she had no choice, so reluctantly, she slung her pack over her shoulder and, together with the rest of them, started walking.

"Hey Hillary, now that we have, um, plenty of time, can you please explain to me what you mean when you keep talking about missing out on life?" Tracy asked as she pictured the others lying back in the van's air-conditioned comfort, while beads of sweat from the hot summer sun formed on her forehead. "Can't a person enjoy life just as much without sweating?"

Hillary smiled. "I meant that a lot of the most pleasurable things in life just don't come easy and if a person always goes for the easy, comfortable way, she'll miss out on a lot of pleasure."

"But isn't comfort and pleasure the same thing?"

"Nope, and sometimes they're even the opposite."

Tracy felt confused as Hillary went on to explain. "I'm not saying you always have to do things the hard way. Just that you can't let the fact that something's uncomfortable stop you from doing it if it's worthwhile."

"But who said hiking this trail instead of riding up in the van is really worthwhile?"

Hillary just smiled. "Wait and see."

As they walked on, the trail was getting really pretty. The further they got, the more breathtaking views, flowery meadows and fresh-water streams they saw.

"Do you think you'd be enjoying all this natural beauty from out the window of a speeding van?" Hillary asked.

"I don't know - maybe," Tracy shrugged, though she knew deep down it wasn't so.

"Hey, guys," Wendy whispered to them at one point, "take a look at that stream over there, but don't get too close and don't make any noise."

Tracy and the others turned and were amazed to see an adorable family of beavers who had built a dam and were frolicking in the water!

"Wow, that's amazing," whispered Tracy.

"And do you also think you'd ever get to see something like that from a van?" prodded Hillary.

"No way," Tracy admitted. "This whole hike has been an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"And an experience you never would have had without sweating, right?"

Tracy nodded. "I have to admit it - and I guess I understand now that you really can miss out on life's pleasures when you always do what's most comfortable. Maybe from now on I'll think twice before choosing to take the easy way out."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Tracy feel when she first had a choice between riding in the van or hiking?
A. She felt that since riding was easier, it would be better.

Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She had such an amazing time that she saw that hiking was better even though it was harder.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life lesson do you think Tracy learned that day?
A. Until then, she had always looked for the easiest, most comfortable way of doing anything. Once she was forced to hike up the mountain and experienced how much more pleasurable it was to actually be in nature than to just drive by it, she realized that a lot of times the most pleasurable choice isn't the most comfortable one.

Q. Do you think Tracy would have been able to understand this lesson if she hadn't experienced it herself?
A. It would have been hard, because it can seem so tempting to take the easy way out. Only after she experienced how much more pleasurable it was not to, could she understand it was true.

Spiritual exercise: Do one thing today even though it's uncomfortable because it's worthwhile and right.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. What do you thing Hillary meant when she said that pleasure and comfort weren't the same thing and could even be opposites?
A. It is easy to confuse the two, but pleasure and comfort are quite different. Comfort is simply choosing to avoid effort or pain. However, many of the most worthwhile and pleasurable life experiences do require these things and to avoid them because they aren't comfortable means missing out on a lot of life - both physically and spiritually.

Q. In your opinion, is the pleasure versus comfort choice also applicable to our value decisions? How?
A. Often doing what's right and in line with our values requires us to put in more effort than just going with the flow. We may have to face uncomfortable reactions, etc. However there is no deeper and long-lasting pleasure than choosing to do what's right especially when it's hard.

Spiritual exercise: Do one thing today even though it's uncomfortable because it's worthwhile and right.


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Published: August 5, 2006

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