Gratitude is more than just an attitude. In this week's portion, in order to free the Hebrew slaves from their brutal Egyptian taskmasters, it was necessary to strike the Nile River with a plague. Aaron - not Moses - did the striking. This is because Moses felt a debt of gratitude to the river that had helped save his life as an infant. Even though it was an inanimate object and it had happened many years ago, Moses remained grateful and let his gratitude affect his actions. The Torah way is to feel and to show appreciation to those who help us in any way.
In our story, some kids get a lesson in appreciation.
"TURNING THE TABLE"
Martin checked the set tables of cakes, snacks and drinks for the 15th time.
"Martin," his sister, Jill, said, "if you keep moving around the stuff on the tables, you're just going to end up with a big mess. Leave it alone!"
Martin sat back down on the couch and checked his watch, again.
"They'll be here," said Jill. "Don't worry."
Easy for her to say, thought Martin. Mrs. Polly Popular. Why oh why did I ever think that having this birthday party was going to be a good idea?
Martin had bowling parties and stuff organized by his mother when he was younger, but this was his first ever attempt at hosting his own party. His family had spent a lot of time talking him into it, and he was definitely suffering from second thoughts.
Martin was a smart kid with a big heart to match and would even go out of his way help kids with their schoolwork, but when it came to socializing, he never really seemed to know the right thing to say. Let's just say big parties and him didn't really go together.
While Martin was awaiting the arrival of the guests, a few blocks away the guests themselves were having far different thoughts.
"Smarty Marty had a party...," Rich, a not very nice classmate, was waving around the invitation Martin had passed around the day before with the details about his party. "...and no one even came!" he finished off jubilantly.
Sitting around a table at the pizza place, Rich and his buddies burst out laughing. Everyone, that is, except Sam, the unofficial 'leader' of the group, who quietly put his coat on and stood up to leave.
"Where ya going, Sam?" asked Rich. He was sure that Sam had found his little song as funny as everyone else had.
"Actually, I'm going to Martin's party."
"What do you have to do with that geek?" his friends asked.
"As a matter of fact, that 'geek' got me out of huge a jam I was in last month. I found out that if I didn't pass my math exams, I was going to get thrown off the hockey team. Somehow Martin heard about it - I think through my sister and his sister, they're friends. He called me up and asked me if I needed help, and he tutored me every single day for the entire month until I had it down cold. I passed with flying colors." He paused a second, and then said, "Come to think of it, I owe a lot to Martin. I didn't just learn math from him, either. The least I can do is help him celebrate his birthday."
His friends stared at him, dumbfounded. Martin and Sam??!! As he turned to go, Sam looked back at them.
"Anyone care to join me?"
Sam had struck a nerve. Almost every boy seated at the table, at one time or another, had been the recipient of Martin's special brand of kindness - help with homework and preparing for a test. Almost at once, they stood up and followed him out, sheepishly.
"Marty had a party..." mumbled Rich under his breath. "...and ALL his friends were there!"
A few minutes later, Martin opened the door, surprised and thrilled to see his whole class standing there.
Jill folded her arms triumphantly. "Told you so!"
Q. How did Rich and the other kids feel about going to Martin's party at first?
A. They didn't want to go.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. Once Sam reminded them of how Martin had helped them, they wanted to go to show their appreciation.
Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. It's easy to forget about all the good things people do for us - like the way Martin helped kids with their schoolwork - but the Torah way is to try to remember, like Sam did, and show our gratitude whenever we can.
Q. What are some ways we can increase our ability to feel and show gratitude?
A. One way is to try to think about the people in our lives and focus on whatever good - big or small - they have done for us. Then we should make a note of all these 'debts of gratitude' and keep our eyes open for ways to pay them back.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think the ability to show appreciation and gratitude is an important part of happiness? Why or why not?
A. To feel grateful is to be aware of the good in our lives. It is a sign of humility and allows us to focus on what we have rather than what we lack. In short, it is a major key to happy living.
Q. Do you think that developing more gratitude to people could affect our relationship with God? How?
A. God gives each of us so much, but sometimes it's hard to relate. By learning how to be grateful and appreciate the kindness of people, we develop our ability to appreciate God's kindness, which is a powerful way to draw and feel closer to Him.