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Shlach(Numbers 13-15)

Encouragement and Discouragement


We each have the power to give people the confidence to succeed - or take it away from them. In this week's portion (Numbers 13:31), the scouts who were sent out by the Jewish people to check out the land of Israel come back with a discouraging report that causes the people to lose their confidence and miss out on a great opportunity. We can learn from here to try always to encourage others and not discourage them.

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In our story, a couple of friends feel the effects of encouragement and discouragement.

DOUBLE PLAY

The two friends looked at each other with excited gleams in their eyes after examining the school bulletin board.

TRYOUTS FOR THIS YEAR'S PLAY!!! the note announced. Underneath was a list of all the parts up for audition.

"Cool, I love the school play!" said Rachel. "I can't wait to try out for it."

"Me too," said her friend Pam. "It's the best part of the whole school year!"

The girls headed out of the school building arm in arm, discussing each part and how it would feel to play it. At that moment, anything seemed possible...

Let's peek in on what happened, though, when these two girls returned home...

"Mom, guess what?!" cried Rachel as she burst into the house. "School play ... hey!" she said, spotting her older sister. "Where's Mom?"

"Hi Rachel. Welcome home. Mom's resting. The baby was up all night with an earache. School play, huh? That's wonderful. I loved our school plays."

"Oh Alisa, I'm so excited. Do you think I'll get chosen for a good part?"

"Why not? There's almost nothing a person can't accomplish if he wants it enough and he's willing to try. Go for it! We'll all be rooting for you, that's for sure."

"Thanks Alisa. You're the best big sister in the whole world!"

And in Pam's house...

"Hello! Anybody home? Hello?"

Pam's older sister was sitting on the couch, absorbed in a new book.

"Where's Mom?"

"Out shopping."

"Oh. Renee, guess what?" said Pam. "They put up notices for tryouts for the school play today. You think I'll get picked for a good part?"

"Nah. I never tried out for those plays. Waste of time, and they always give the good parts to the teacher's pets, anyway. Don't even bother." She turned her head back into her book and said no more.

The next day, the two girls met on the corner as usual and began their daily walk to school. Rachel was bubbling over with excitement.

"Did you tell your mother about the play? Was she excited for you? My whole family was so happy, they really made me feel like I could do it!"

"Hmmph, forget it," was about all Pam could say.

"What's the matter? Don't you want to try out?"

"Nah. Why bother? They give all the parts to the teacher's pets anyway."

Pam echoed her sister's words, although her heart wasn't really in them.

"Pam Schreiber!! How dare you talk like that! Not only is that not true, but even if it was, we can still try out and do our best. How could you give up so easily?"

"I don't know. It's too much trouble."

"Well, I think you'll do great. You're a wonderful actress. Won't you at least try?"

It was hard for Pam to take her sister's earlier discouraging words out of her head, but she looked into her friend's encouraging face - which was contagious - and smiled.

"Okay. I guess I'll try."

"Great! Let's start practicing!"

Two weeks later...

Rachel and Pam were nearly breathless as they walked over to the bulletin board to check the results of the auditions. After a tense moment, their eyes lit up and big smiles appeared on their faces. Both of them had gotten major roles in the play!

"I knew you could do it!" Rachel crowed.

"Not without you," said Pam, seriously. "Who knows what would have happened if you hadn't encouraged me? Thanks for your kind words. We'd better start memorizing our lines!!"

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Rachel feel after she told her sister about the play tryouts?
A. She felt happy and confident she would succeed because her sister encouraged her.

Q. How did Pam feel after she told her sister?
A. She felt down and ready to give up because her sister discouraged her.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. Seeing how much the two girls' attitudes and level of self-confidence were affected by whether they were encouraged or discouraged should show us what a gift we give someone when we encourage him and how harmful it is to discourage people.

Q. Do you think there is ever a time we should try to discourage someone from doing something he wants to do?
A. While generally we should try to encourage people to help them reach their goals, if we see that someone wants to do something genuinely harmful to himself or others we should certainly try to discourage it.

Spiritual Exercises: (a) Find a way to encourage someone today. (b) Smile at someone who could use one.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our sages tell us that to encourage someone is a greater kindness than even to give him an actual material gift. Do you agree? Why or why not?
A. While a gift is a certainly a kind gesture, especially to someone in need, when we encourage someone, we give him something more. We give him the gift of confidence and courage (i.e. en-courage) to lift himself up and harness his inner powers to succeed, which produces a deeper happiness than any material gift can bring.

Q. Our sages also tell us that a smile is one of the best forms of encouragement we can give someone. Why do you think that is so?
A. A smile is more than just a facial expression. It is a super-powerful non-verbal message that can instantly penetrate a person's soul and improve his whole outlook. Smiling is so powerful that just by doing it - even if we don't feel like it - it can make us feel better as well. Conversely, a frown or sour look can cause tremendous damage. In short: keep smiling!

Spiritual Exercises: (a) Find a way to encourage someone today. (b) Smile at someone who could use one.


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Published: June 2, 2007

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