Chores and Responsibilities
For some, the very words 'chores' and 'responsibilities' send shivers down their spines. Yet these are among the most important tools to build us and prepare us to lead happy and successful lives. In this week's Torah portion we learn about how some of our greatest ancestors - the special, holy Levite tribe - had many responsibilities and chores to perform for the common good. They did these because they were great, and by doing them grew even greater.
In our story, a kid finds out that the easy life and the good life aren't always the same thing.
TAKING TO TASK
"What are you doing?" asked Scott to his cousin Gary, whom he was visiting from out of town.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm taking out the garbage."
Scott stared at his cousin wide-eyed. "What are you gawking at? Haven't you ever seen anyone take out the garbage before?"
"Yeah, but in our house the maid always does that kind of stuff."
"The maid?" Gary made his eyes big and talked in his snobby voice. "You have a maid? Well lah-di-dah!"
Scott punched his cousin playfully on the shoulder, and the two quickly moved on to other things. But Gary didn't forget the conversation so easily.
That night, he asked him mom, "Is Scott rich?" His mother raised her eyebrow.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because they have a maid to do all their chores - instead of the kids, that's why."
"I see." smiled his mom. "Well, they're not exactly rich, but they do live differently than us. His mom and dad are both really busy with their businesses, so they have help, including a maid that lives with them."
"Can we get a maid, too, instead of doing chores?" Gary asked hopefully.
"What on earth for?" his mother laughed "There's plenty of us around to take care of what needs to be done, and besides - chores are good for a person."
"What's good about them?" Gary sniffed.
"Because they teach you how to be responsible and train you how to cope with life. Listen Gary, it's getting late. You should get some rest for tomorrow's trip. But, please don't forget to sweep the front steps before you go to sleep. It's your turn."
As Gary reluctantly pushed the broom, he thought to himself how much better life would be if he didn't have to do chores, like his cousin, Scott, who as far as he was concerned was coping with life just fine.
The next morning, the two boys got ready to go on an overnight camping trip in the woods behind Gary's house. They'd been planning since before Scott's arrival and Gary couldn't wait to show him all the cool caves and streams he'd discovered and to get that special thrill that only sleeping under the stars can bring.
The boys started out together really excited, until they realized that their ideas of "camping out" were completely different.
"Hey, where's the cabin we're going to sleep in?" asked Scott, as Gary threw their gear down in the middle of a clearing in the park.
"What cabin? I brought my tent. Who needs a cabin?"
"What about all the animals and bugs and stuff?"
"Ah, don't worry about it. There's nothing really dangerous around here and whatever comes up, we'll handle it."
But Scott was worried, and got more so as the day wore on. And grumpy too. Scott was stumbling, tripping, and dropping things all afternoon, grumbling all the while about how much work everything was.
"Okay, Scott. The tent is almost ready. I'll hold it up while you bang in the pegs with the hammer, okay?"
"Why do we have to bang it in? This is so hard. Won't the tent just stay up the way it is?"
"Listen, will you stop griping and just bang in the pegs!"
"Okay, if you insist. OUCH!!!"
The tent fell down as Gary ran to check out what happened. Scott had banged himself so hard on his finger that they had to cancel the trip and go home.
As they were making their way back home, the silence between them was thick. "I'm sorry, Gary," said Scott. "I didn't mean to ruin the trip. I never really use hammers and that kind of stuff at home. Our handyman..."
"I know, you told me, your handyman does everything, and your maid, and your gardener. Look, it's not your fault. I guess I shouldn't have taken us on this trip in the first place. I didn't think camping out was such a big deal, you know."
"For you it isn't because, you know how to do things and work hard." Gary turned to Scott, whose eyes were kind of red and misty. "You know, Gary, when I first got here, I thought I had it so much easier than you and felt sorry for you -you know, having chores and stuff. Now I see that all those chores you do give you something I don't have. You're used to working hard and you're able to take care of yourself and do things I can't do ... and maybe never will."
Gary had never looked at it that way, but now that Scott said it, it made sense. As they trudged home, Gary reminded himself to talk to his mom about this when he got home, and ... as strange as it sounded ... thank her for giving him chores.
Q. How did Gary feel about doing chores at first?
A. He didn't like them and was jealous of his cousin who didn't do any.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how his chores had taught him to do a lot of things his cousin couldn't and felt better about them.
Q. What life-lesson do you think the guys learned that day?
A. Gary had felt that the only difference between him and his cousin was that he had to do work and his cousin had everything done for him. In other words, he had it worse. But after the camping trip, when he saw how all his work had given him skills to cope that his cousin didn't have, he saw that chores and responsibilities have and 'up' side, too.
Q. Besides practical skills, like learning how to use tools, etc., do you think a person gains something else by having chores and responsibilities? A. Life in this world is about maximizing our potential and working hard to achieve worthwhile goals. Chores and responsibilities build us up and give us the inner strength we need to succeed. Besides this, they also polish our character and help turn us into givers instead of takers, which is one of life's main spiritual goals.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, do comfort and pleasure go hand in hand? Why or why not?
A. Although it may seem so, in truth they are miles apart. Often the greatest pleasures in life take much effort to achieve and sustain and aren't comfortable at all. Comfort seeking is a kind of retreating from life - a mini-death - and missing out on many of the greatest pleasures life has to offer.
Q. Our sages teach that 'if someone claims to have achieved something spiritually worthwhile without effort, don't believe him.' How do you understand this?
A. It is a spiritual rule that that which is genuinely worthwhile is going to require effort to achieve. Although we might wish it were otherwise - when it comes to spiritual greatness, there is no free ride.