Choices matter. In this week's Torah portion (Deut. 11:13-17), God tells the people if they choose to do what's right they'll face pleasant consequences, but if they choose not to, then the consequences will reflect that too. We'll do better when we remember that the way we choose has a lot to do with whether we win or lose.
In our story, a couple of kids discover that the choices they make - make a difference.
SWEET AND SOUR
"Well, the good news is, neither of you have any new cavities," said Dr. Green, the family dentist.
"Great!" both Becky and her brother, Phil, cheered.
"But..." the dentist interrupted, "both of you have what might be a 'pre-cavity' developing, so I want to see you again in three months to take another look. If you brush and floss regularly the way I showed you and cut back on sweets, everything should be fine. But if not..."
The kids, happy to leave the dentist's office not in pain, bounded out all smiles.
They were almost home, when Phil tapped Becky on the shoulder.
"Come on. Let's go celebrate the good news!" he said, pointing to Cones 'n Cups, their favorite ice-cream parlor.
"What? Get ice-cream?" Becky asked, amazed. "Didn't you hear what the dentist just said - cut down on sweets?"
"Yeah, yeah," Phil waved his hand, "I will cut down - tomorrow. But now let's have some fun."
Becky reluctantly followed her brother into the store and sipped on a sugar-free soda as Phil licked and crunched his way through a double-dip candy-cane, sugar-cone special.
"See, I ate it and my teeth are still in one piece," the boy teased as they paid their bill and left.
That night, after a long summer evening of doing not-too-much, the kids were about to turn in.
"Hey, didn't you forget something?" Becky, who was standing over the sink, toothbrush in hand, asked Phil, who was about to duck into his room.
"Forget? What?" the boy yawned.
"Dr. Green said the most important time to brush and floss is right before bedtime, remember?" she said as she squeezed a squiggle of blue and white toothpaste onto her brush.
"Oh ... yeah..." Phil nodded and turned the handle to his door.
"So?" his sister prodded.
"I'll do it in the morning ... you know, I'm really tired now."
"But the dentist said..."
"Okay, okay. I'm sure my teeth can survive until tomorrow. G'night," Phil said, closing the door behind him.
But the next morning, Phil, in a rush to get to day camp, didn't quite get to it, neither did he most mornings or nights after that - somehow always with a 'good' excuse - while Becky followed the dentist's instructions almost to the letter.
The weeks passed and the kids went to their three-month dental checkup.
"Well, Becky," Dr. Green smiled. "It looks like everything's fine. Keep up the good work."
"Thanks!" she said relieved.
"Yeah, thanks," Phil echoed and started to follow his sister out to the reception room.
"Er ... not so fast," the dentist said, shaking his head...
"Owww..." Phil held his hand to his throbbing cheek as he and Becky walked out of the office building "That dentist's drill was big enough to dig for oil! You're so lucky you didn't need a filling like me!"
Becky nodded her head sympathetically at her brother's pain. Maybe she'd explain to him how 'luck' had nothing to do with it ... once he was feeling better.
Q. How did Phil feel about taking care of his teeth?
A. He didn't really pay attention to what he was supposed to do and he got a cavity.
Q. How did Becky feel?
A. She took it seriously and in the end was glad she did.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from what happened in this story?
A. At times, we have to choose whether to do what's right and healthy, and it's not always going to be convenient. But it's important to remember that, even if we don't see right away, these choices will have consequences and it's worth it to make the right choice.
Q. Do you think that Phil chose to get a cavity?
A. While he certainly didn't say, "I want to get a cavity," the decisions he made not to follow the dentist's instruction and take care of his teeth were, in effect, making just that choice. Life is full of choices that have consequences and if we keep that in mind, we will end up much happier.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that the wise person 'looks at the future.' What do you think this means?
A. While it's impossible to entirely 'predict' the future, many times it's quite possible to see where the consequences of our present choices are likely to lead. A wise person always keeps one eye on the future by making the kind of responsible choices that will most likely lead to the kind of future he'd like to see.
Q. Is there such a thing as making 'no choice'?
A In almost all situations, 'not making a choice' is in effect also making a choice. That is, 'choosing not to choose' will affect our future as much as any other 'choice.' The bottom line is to remember that life is a constant stream of choices and it's well worth it to choose well.