Getting In To Get Out
We get as much out of something as we put into it. In this week's Torah portion (Num. 31:27) we learn that when it came time to divide the riches that the people acquired while traveling to the Land of Israel, God didn't tell us to divide it equally among everyone. Rather, those who exerted themselves more for it, got more. We can learn from here that the more we invest in an activity and take it seriously, the more we'll get back in the end.
In our story, a kid discovers that the more we 'get into' something, the more we get out of it.
"Isn't this the dumbest thing in the world?" Tom griped to his buddy, Steven, as the two of them stood with the rest of their bunkmates around the long wooden arts and crafts table. "I wish we could be doing something fun now," Tom went on, flicking small pieces of the clay he was supposed to be using for his pottery-making project out the window "like swimming or horseback riding, instead of this baby stuff, don't you?"
"I like sports best, too," Steven admitted, "but this is also part of the camp schedule, so why not try to get into it? I'm gonna make a pair of ceramic candlesticks for my mom. I think they're going to come out nice," he said, as he carefully diagrammed his project design on a piece of graph paper. "And what are you making?"
Tom shrugged, lowering the music blasting through his earphones. "I don't want to make anything. I don't even want be here. But I heard if you don't participate you get early curfew." Tom halfheartedly plopped a small lump of modeling clay on top of another larger one...
The next few Mondays and Wednesdays - the days when the guys had arts and crafts -the scene repeated itself. Steven worked diligently on his project - shaping, measuring, molding and painting, as Tom spaced out, listening to his ipod and pretending to make something when he thought the counselor was looking.
Visiting day arrived, a day all the campers looked forward to as a chance to reunite with their families, and especially to restock on spending money and all the treats and nosh they were sure to bring. Steven's parents and Tom's - good friends and neighbors themselves - drove upstate to the camp together.
"Hi Mom!" Steven called out, running up to the van as it arrived in the parking lot, greeting his mother with a big smile and handing her the neatly wrapped package he held in his hands.
"Hi Mom!" Tom echoed, same smile, but hands empty.
"Wow, these are just stunning!" Steven's mother exclaimed as she unwrapped the sleek, shining glazed-ceramic candlesticks. "Where could you go shopping around here?" she asked.
"Nah," Steven smiled widely, not sure whether his mom really thought he'd bought them. "I made them for you in arts and crafts."
"Oh, how thoughtful of you!" She gave him a hug.
"Do you also go to that class?" Tom's mother asked her son, as she admired Steven's handiwork.
"Uh, yeah," Tom shuffled, uncomfortably. Boy, did Steven's mother look happy - and boy, did he wish he had something nice to give his mom, too. "I just ... the stuff I made ... kinda broke in the end." Yeah, when I tossed the shapeless lump of clay into the garbage can as soon as it had come out of the pottery kiln.
"Gee, that's too bad," his mother said sympathetically, a slight look of disappointment on her face. "I'm sure if it hadn't, you would have shown me something just as nice. Sorry it didn't work out."
Tom nodded, but inside he knew that the problem wasn't because it didn't 'work out' - but simply, to his regret, that he hadn't put more 'work in' to it.
Q. How did Tom feel at first about not working at his arts and crafts project?
A. He felt it didn't matter, so why bother trying?
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt sorry he hadn't tried harder when he saw how happy Steven's project made his mom.
Q. What life-lesson could someone learn from what happened?
A. When someone takes the easy way out and doesn't take his tasks seriously, he can think it doesn't matter. But in truth, there are always consequences and by choosing not to try hard - we are choosing not to accomplish.
Q. How would you describe the difference in the two boys' attitudes?
A. Even though they would both have rather been playing sports, Steven chose to make the most of the situation he was in - and thereby had a positive experience, while Tom chose to pout in protest - gaining nothing.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think there is anything spiritual about working hard at a task?
A. God gave each of us special talents and the energy to use them. When we exert ourselves at a task, we are acknowledging God's gifts to us and declaring that we see life as meaningful. Of course, we should be sure that we're using our talents and energy in a positive way.
Q. Do you think there are any shortcuts to life - that is ways to achieve something worthwhile without trying?
A. While it may sound nice in theory - life doesn't work that way. All genuine life achievements only come one way - through dedication and effort.