Every kid in a family, whether he or she's the oldest, youngest or somewhere in between, has their own special place, with its own special perks and challenges. This week's Torah portion speaks of the children of Jacob and Joseph, the order of their birth and the particular joys and challenges they experienced as they came to find their place. We too can discover that wherever we find ourselves in our family, we'll be much happier once we come to accept who we are with joy.
In our story, some kids find out that being who and where they are in their family is better than they thought.
"BAIT AND SWITCH"
"Mom! Mommmmm!!! Tell David! Tell him!"
"What's the problem Miriam?"
"He's always bothering me. He thinks I'm his slave because I'm younger. He's always telling me what to do."
"Waaaaiiiiit a minute! Wait just a minute!" cried David. "You didn't see what she did to me. She went in my drawer and took out my candy bar! She's always taking my stuff and going in my drawers. You only see her side of it."
"But he told me he'd give it to me if I gave him my book. Then he took my book and he never gave me the candy. Then when I took what was coming to me he pinched me. Tell him!"
Mrs. Rosen gazed at her two children with her special patient and understanding expression she used just for these occasions. She knew they weren't really mad at each other, and that fighting was just part of their ongoing, never-ending conversation. But she could see that they were getting truly frustrated, and that concerned her.
Looking at her two kids brought back a clear memory of two other children, one boy and one girl just like these two, except that they were this age over 30 years before, passionately delivering a similar complaint. And then she remembered another mother -- her own -- who was infinitely wiser than she, carting out her own special brand of sympathy, and a suggestion that changed everything. Well if it worked once…
"David, Miriam. It sounds like you two have a major problem. You both think the other one has it real easy, don't you."
"Yeah," said Miriam. "He gets to do everything because he's the oldest. He gets all the privileges."
"And she's spoiled. She gets whatever she wants and she gets away with everything because she's the youngest. No fair!" cried David.
"Yeah, no fair!" echoed Miriam, ever faithful to her brother even in ‘wartime.'
"So how about we try this," said Mrs. Rosen. "From now on, by the power hereby vested in me as your mother, Miriam is now . . . the oldest! And David . . . the youngest! You've switched places. Congratulations!"
David and Miriam stared at each other delirious with joy. "Whoopee!" they shouted. "Let's get started."
"David, bring me a cup of soda with a straw immediately!" said Miriam, anxious to begin lest the dream be shattered unexpectedly.
"Don't want to," David said. "Don't feel like it."
"I hate to interrupt you," said Mrs. Rosen. "But I must inform you, David, that since you are now the youngest, it's getting close to your bedtime. Upstairs with you, on the double!"
"What?" he cried. "But it's only 6:30! My bedtime isn't for another two hours!"
"That was back when you were the oldest. All youngest children in this family go to bed at 6:30. Good night!"
A speechless David had no choice but to drag himself upstairs and into his pajamas.
"Miriam," she turned now to his gloating and rather pleased sibling. "Please start gathering up all the garbage and bringing everything out to the curb. It's Tuesday, and pick-up is early Wednesday morning. That's a job of the oldest."
Miriam stared at her mother like she'd spoken Chinese.
"What?" she cried. "How am I supposed to lift everything? And you want me to go out now, in the dark and the cold, all the way to the end of the driveway?"
"Guess so," said Mrs. Rosen.
Miriam stood around a few moments waiting for her mother to say something else, but no further comments were forthcoming. In utter disbelief, she spent the next 45 minutes lugging the heavy trash bags back and forth from the house to the driveway. She came back into the house completely exhausted. As she started to walk up the stairs to bed, her mother called her back.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"To bed. I'm tired."
"Well, I don't know, Miriam. David usually spends this half hour helping me finish up last minute odds and ends. Sweeping the floor, things like that. Taking on extra responsibilities is also part of being the oldest."
At that moment, David started calling from upstairs. "I can't fall asleep. What am I supposed to do here for the next two hours until I get tired? Being the youngest is so boring!"
"And being the oldest is a lot of work," Miriam chimed in.
David peeked his head over the top of the stairs.
"So what would you like to do?" asked their mother.
The two fell silent for a moment.
"Um, can't we just go back to the way things were?" said David.
"Yeah, the way things were," echoed Miriam.
"Weeell, I suppose we could try it," said Mrs. Rosen. "Maybe you'll be able to see the other's point of view a little bit better now" In her mind's eye, she gave her own mom, who had taught her this same lesson so many years ago, a little wink. Thanks, Ma, she whispered to herself, I always loved being the oldest thanks to you.
Q. How did David and Miriam feel at first?
A. They each felt the other one got a better deal.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They saw how really it was best for them to be who they were.
Q. What life lesson do you think the kids got out of what happened?
A. It's easy to feel that others have it better in life than we do. When their mom had them 'trade places' they were able to see how the other one had some disadvantages they hadn't considered and it wasn't all 'easy street.'
Q. . If you could, would you trade lives with someone else you know? Why or why not?
A.On the outside it might certainly feel like a good idea. However the truth is that everyone has parts of their lives that are difficult, even if others can't tell and G-d gives us each the life that is exactly right for us and ultimately will make us the happiest.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that the definition of a wealthy person is one who is happy with their lot in life. What do you think they mean and how do you relate to this idea?
A. In a true, spiritual sense, a person's wealth or success is not defined by position or possessions, but by one's attitude. Someone who is happy with his lot in life, is living a content and happy life—which is something money can't buy.
Q. Do you think it's possible for a person to train themselves to attain an attitude of being more 'happy with their lot?' If so, how?
A. One way is to stop and consider all the good things in their life and also how things could be worse. Most important, however is to develop an awareness of G-d's presence in our lives and a trust that He is always directing our lives for our very best.