Carefully following instructions can help us accomplish things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise. In this week's Torah portion we learn of the instructions that the people carefully followed to properly bring the special offerings to the Tabernacle, which helped them feel closer to God. We, too, achieve a lot by carefully following instructions.
In our story, a kid sees the value following instructions - in living color.
"Whatcha doin'?" Cal asked his big sister, Jenny, who had just sat down at the playroom table and was looking very busy - Cal's favorite time to ask her lots of questions.
"I'm about to make a painting," Jenny said, as she laid out a flat white panel and rows of little containers; each a different color and with a number on its cover.
"Yeah? A painting of what?"
"If you must know - this." Jenny held up a cardboard box top that had a beautiful picture of running horses on it.
"Come on," the boy chuckled, "You're not an artist or anything. You could never make something that looked like that."
"That's what you think," Jenny sniffed as she opened the cap of one of the paint cups. Then, after staring for a while at the while panel, she took her paintbrush and painted a small brown spot in one of the corners.
"Why'd you do that?" Cal asked, poking his finger at the newly painted spot.
"Don't touch! Hey, don't you have somewhere to go?"
"Me? No. Why? And what are all those little squiggly boxes on what you're painting?"
Jenny, who by now had filled in several more patches in various corners of the panel, reluctantly raised her head.
"Those 'squiggly boxes' are the paint-by-number instructions. They say where to put which color..."
"Instructions? I hate instructions!"
"Oh, really? I would never have guessed. But, sometimes people need them, you know. Like now. See, all the boxes that have the number 'one' on it, I have to paint with this kind of brown. And all the..."
"That's how you think you're going to make a good painting? Are you nuts?"
"Not last I checked. Hey, isn't that Dad calling you from downstairs?"
"Dad's out shopping in case you want to know. Like I said, why bother with dumb instructions? Just paint however you want."
"I do make paintings that way sometimes, but this time I want to make it just like in the picture..."
"You can even paint with your fingers like we do in school - here, want me to show you how?" He reached for the paints.
"No!! Will you just let me..."
"Cal ... bath time..."
"Hah! This time Mom is calling you. Too-da-loo!"
The boy stomped down the stairs and Jenny, finally free from playing '20 questions,' was able to buckle down and concentrate. She carefully followed the instructions one by one...
A while later:
"Hey, Jenny, why does it happen that every time I stay in the bath a long time my skin wrinkles up like I'm eighty gazillion years old?" Cal asked as he burst into the playroom.
"I give up."
The kid, now in his pajamas and smelling like bubble bath, jumped up onto her lap and stuck his face inches from her now nearly completed painting.
"Wow! That really looks just like those horses in the picture!"
"Thanks. But be careful, it's still a little wet and you don't want to have to go back in the bath for another eighty gazillion years, do you?"
"No way! Hey! What happened to all the little boxes?"
"I filled them all in - like I told you I would."
The boy shook his head. "Wow, do you think I could make a nice picture like that?"
"Sure. As long as you follow the instructions."
Q. How did Cal feel when he first saw Jenny painting?
A. He felt like there was no reason to have to follow the instructions.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. When he saw how nice the picture came out, he realized following instructions could be a good thing.
Q. Why do you think people sometimes don't like following instructions?
A. It can be hard and it's also human nature to like to do things our own way - which is fine - but sometimes by following instructions we can accomplish things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
Q. Do we always have to follow the instructions we are given?
A. It depends. If the instructions are to do something dangerous or against our values, then certainly not. However, if they will help us learn or accomplish something - why not?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Who do you think will be better at learning from others by following instructions - a conceited person or a humble one? Why?
A. To follow instructions requires a measure of humility, as we must admit that we don't 'know it all.'
Q. The Torah has been describes as 'instructions for living'. What do you think this means?
A. Life and all of its many inner and outer facets is a hugely complex undertaking. The Creator wouldn't just pop us down on the planet without an instruction book on how to live the most pleasurable and successful life. That instruction book is the Written and Oral Torah.