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Chayei Sarah(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Inner Strength


Being a strong person means more than being able to lift a heavy weight over your head. In this week's Torah portion we learn about Abraham's son, Isaac, the second of our forefathers. Our sages teach that Isaac's most outstanding character trait was 'gevura' - self-control and inner strength to do what's right even when it's hard. We have all inherited this trait from him and by tapping into it can become strong where it really counts.

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In out story a group of kids get their ideas about strength turned over on its head.

"THE SIXTY-SIX POUND STRONGLING"

      "I'll take Robby."

      Maybe they'd pick me next, thought Joel optimistically.

      "I'll pick Kenny."

      Nope.

      "I'll take ... Glen."

      Joel Landers liked playing football with the guys in the neighborhood, but he hated standing in the line-up as they picked out teams. This was mainly because he was always picked last. (That is, unless you counted the time Kenny brought his five-year-old cousin along, and Joel suspected the only reason they didn't pick that kid before him too was that he was wearing a cast.)

      "I pick, um Fred, I guess.

      Last again. Well, what could he expect? At 66 pounds, even with his coat on, and arms about as thick as spaghetti, he wasn't exactly what you could call prime football material.

      "C'mon Beanpole, you're with us. But be careful, it's pretty windy today and if you blow away it's gonna be kind of tough to find you," joked Danny, the team captain putting one of his huge arms around Joel's shoulder.

      If only I were built like big, strong Danny or some of the other big guys in the neighborhood, I'd for sure get picked, Joel thought to himself.

      The guys began to play and were having a good time. Then Danny punted the football, giving it a good kick, just as a big gust of wind came. The kids stared in wonder as the ball flew and flew ... and then suddenly CRASH!! The ball sailed right through Mr. Edwards' porch window, which was unfortunately closed at the time.

      Everyone ran like crazy. Mr. Edwards always yelled at them just for playing near his house. Now that they had actually done some damage, who knew what he would do? Led by the fast-running Danny, they knew that once they jumped over the fence they'd be safely out of screaming range. Joel started running with them too - and then...

      "Wow, huff, huff, that was a close one, huff huff," said Danny, out of breath as he looked the guys over. "At least we all got out of there in time... Hey, where's Beanpole?"

      "Hey, look back there!" said Kenny pointing back across the fence. "There he is, and he's talking face-to-face with Mr. Edwards!"

      Joel tried to stay calm as the red-faced man came ambling his way. Sure, he could have taken off with everyone else, but somehow it didn't seem right. After all, they broke a window. Shouldn't someone at least own up to it and offer to pay?

      "We're really sorry, Mr. Edwards," said Joel. "From now on we'll stay only on the far end of the lot. Here's five dollars now, and we'll get the rest of that 50 dollars to you within a week, I promise."

      Joel wiped the sweat off his forehead as Mr.Edwards walked back into his house MUCH calmer than when he had come out. He even gave them back the football. Joel turned to look for his friends and saw nine amazed faces staring at him through the chain-link fence.

      The next day Joel was daydreaming as the guys lined up to pick teams. He knew he'd have quite a wait until they got to him. Suddenly he felt a poke on the shoulder. "Go ahead," said Kenny, looking his way.

      "Huh?"

      "Danny just picked you for his team. Go over to him."

      Joel looked at the rest of the guys still lined up waiting to get picked. Was this some kind of joke? He turned to Danny, who was smiling at him brightly.

      "That's right Bean... um, Joel. I picked you first. After seeing what you did yesterday - standing face-to-face with Mr. Edwards when we all ran scared - I think it's pretty clear to everyone that you're the strongest one of us all."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Danny feel about Joel at first?
A. They felt that he was weak and that they were strong because they were bigger than he was.

Q. How did he feel about him in the end?
A. Danny saw how Joel was the only one brave enough to do the right thing by not running away and realized that Joel was really the strongest one of them, inside where it counts.

 

Ages 6-9

Q. What do you think the guys learned that day about strength and weakness?
A. They had assumed that what made a person strong was his physical size and strength. But when only Joel, the physically weakest among them, stayed to take responsibility after they broke the window, the kids saw that there is a type of inner strength to do what is right even when it's tough, that has nothing to do with the size of one's muscles.

Q. Which type of strength do you think is more important? Why?
A. To be strong and healthy is a good thing and taking good care of our bodies is even one of the mitzvah-guidelines of the Torah. But even more important is how healthy and strong we are inside-meaning our spiritual strength to remain true to our values no matter what situation we are in.

Spiritual exercise: Do one thing that is ethically right even though it's hard today.

 

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Wise men teach that it is harder for a person to conquer their inner negative inclinations than to conquer a fortified city. How do you understand this?
A. Each of us lives in two worlds. Our 'outer' world in which we struggle to get and hold onto the things we want and need (metaphorically 'conquering cities'), and our 'inner' world in which we struggle with whether we choose to focus on positive or negative thoughts, feelings and values. Although it might not be so apparent, it is how well we succeed in the struggles of our inner world which will most determine whether we live a happy and successful life. Because these struggles are more hidden yet more important, they often present an even greater challenge than the outer struggles of life.

Q. What can a person do to develop his inner strength?
A. Like any other type of strength we want to build-exercise. Each time we choose to stand up for our inner values despite temptations not to, we get stronger. Also, the stronger we connect ourselves to God and feel Him more in our lives the easier it will be tap into our inner strength to live our lives the way we feel He wants us to.

Spiritual exercise: Do one thing that is ethically right even though it's hard today.

 

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Published: November 19, 2005

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