Bring Out Our Best
Sometimes it takes things to get their worst in order to bring out our best. In this week's Torah portion (8:2) Moses tells the people that all the difficulties they have experienced traveling through the desert were a test from God to bring out their inner potential. We too can look at any difficulties in life as a way to discover more about ourselves and to grow.
In our story some friends in a tight spot find out some things about themselves they never knew.
"GO! GO! GO JEFF!!! RUN!!!" David yelled from the bench as his buddy, Jeff, ran towards the goal and kicked the ball straight through the goalie's legs and into the net at the last minute to win the game.
Though he and Jeff were best friends, they couldn't be more different. Jeff loved to jump into the action and take charge, while David preferred to sit things out. And when he did have to play a sport, David would feel scared about getting kicked or hurt somehow. He wished he could be braver like Jeff, but courage just didn't seem to be part of his DNA.
The next morning the two friends met at the boathouse and got ready for their morning row-boating session. As usual, Jeff chose the boat, hauled out all the gear and chose his spot on the boat first. Jeff was just always so sure of what he wanted that he didn't realize it was something most people had to stop and think about! David hopped into the boat while Jeff steadied it and the two took off at a rapid clip, rowing in a rhythm perfected over years of camp summers spent on this lake.
"Jeff, shouldn't we stay out of this part of the lake and stick to where the counselors can see us?" David asked.
"Aw, don't be such a worry wart! Anyway, what could possibly..."
Suddenly the boat went over a sharp rock jutting out from the lake, cutting a hole in its bottom. Water started rushing in as Jeff started to holler in panic.
"We're gonna capsize! We're gonna capsize! Where are the life jackets?"
David swallowed hard. Didn't Jeff remember how after the counselor handed over the jackets and checked that all was secure, Jeff dumped them at the shore before they pushed off? "What could happen?" he said, despite David's protests. Now he knew.
As Jeff got more and more panicked, David - surprised by his own sense of calm - took a second and surveyed the situation. They were in the middle of the lake and a bit too far from land to swim comfortably, and it looked to him like the boat was going to tip over or sink very soon.
It was hard to concentrate with Jeff screaming so loud, but David did his best. Eyeing the buoy that was bobbing on the surface of the water a few feet away, he opened up the bench that contained some basic equipment, hand paddled the boat over and tossed a long piece of rope around the pole supporting the buoy.
Then he pulled the boat along the rope hand over hand, leaning over the side precariously and willing the boat not to sink yet. By the time they'd reached the end of the rope, they were able to easily reach some reeds that they could hold onto and pull themselves towards the shallower water. It was slow going, and David had to spend a lot of time calming Jeff down, but soon the two boys were wet but safe on dry land.
Sitting quietly together trying to catch their breath, Jeff, who suddenly didn't seem quite so put-together in David's eyes, turned to his friend.
"I guess ... I kinda, um, lost my cool out there, but you were the man. How did you ever pull that off?" he said in a tone of voice that David had only heard him use before to talk to the bigger or cool kids.
"You know, Jeff, I'm not really sure. I just wasn't that scared. Could be, 'cuz when I was younger, I had pretty bad asthma and couldn't do a lot of stuff. One of the games I used to play to keep myself occupied was called, 'What would you do if...?' I used to make up really scary dangerous situations and I'd have to figure out how to get out of them. This was nothing compared to being charged by a pack of elephants in a rainstorm!"
The two boys laughed, gathered their stuff and their wits to head back to the boathouse and report their mishap. David felt bad about what happened, but somehow good, too. It seemed that he did possess courage after all. It just took a crisis to wake it up.
David knew they'd hear it about the life jackets and the wrecked boat, but he was coming back away with something even more important: a newfound respect for himself.
Q. How did David feel about himself at first?
A. He felt like he wasn't brave and his friend was.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw he really was brave, but only after something scary had got him to act that way.
Q. What life-lesson do you think David learned that day?
A. He had always seen himself as a timid kind of person, but the crisis of almost drowning brought out something inside of him he never knew he had.
Q. Why do you think it did?
A. We live our day-to-day life based more on our outer impressions of ourselves and others. But difficulties and challenges force us to dig deeper into ourselves and reveal parts of us we would never access otherwise.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is there any way to reach the deeper parts of ourselves other than through difficulties and hardships?
A. In theory, if we tried hard enough to use all of our abilities, we could. But practically speaking, this is very rare because human nature is just to do enough to get by. But hardships and crises remove that luxury and who we are inside, comes out - for better or worse.
Q. Does that mean that a person who wants to grow should seek hardships?
A. No. We should take life as it comes and try our best in every situation. God will see to it that each of us gets just the challenges we need to optimally grow.