Most people find it comfortable keep doing things the way they always have. Even when we discover that there may be a better way to behave or live, we find it difficult to pull away from our old patterns. Yet we learn from this week's Torah portion the value of being open-minded to question our values and even to be willing to make changes in our lifestyle if we discover a truer way to live. We learn this from the lives of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah who grew up in a world that worshipped idols. Nobody even knew that God existed. When Abraham discovered the truth, he bravely left the world of idolatry behind and set out to live and teach the world about God and show them a better way to live.


In our story a boy in an exotic setting grapples with the very real-life issue of whether or not to make changes in his life for the better.


      The year was 1872. The door to Tom's ramshackle beach hut suddenly burst open, flooding the small room with rays from the morning sun. The boy squinted as he propped himself up from his thin straw mattress. He groaned as he recognized the silhouette of his uncle, Bluebeard the Pirate, with his sword dangling jauntily off his hip.

      Tom gulped as he noticed the crinkled envelope his uncle was waving before him. It was the letter to England that Tom had planned to send out with a messenger the next day.

      Tom had always gotten along well with his uncle, who had raised him since he had been orphaned as a young child. But now the large man's usually jolly face was contorted into an angry snarl.

      "Tom Cooke, what is the meaning of this letter!?" he growled. "What do you mean you don't want to be a pirate anymore?!"

      Tom caught his breath. Standing up by now with his night-shirt brushing against his knees, he swallowed and said, "Surely you've read my letter uncle. As I've written, I plan to sail to England as soon as I can where I hope to find an honest job and..."

      The pirate threw back his head in laughter, his big silvery-blue beard shaking as he laughed. "Surely you jest, boy!" he exclaimed. "Why, your father was a pirate, and his father before him. You might say it's our family business!"

      Although Tom felt frightened, he stood his ground. "I've been giving it some thought and I have come to the conclusion that being a pirate is wrong. What kind of a life is it? Sinking ships, robbing and hurting innocent people ... I can't do it, and I won't!"

      Seeing that his nephew was serious, the pirate softened his look and tried to appeal to the boy's emotions. "Listen son, your whole life is here on Pirate Island. Why, you don't even know a soul in England. Why give up a good, comfortable life?"

      Only the squawk of Tom's parrot cut through the silence in the small room as man and boy stared each other down. Tom felt himself shaking. His uncle was right, he thought. It would be difficult to leave the people and the life he had known. Yet he knew deep down that their lifestyle was wrong and that he couldn't stay. Finally the boy spoke up. "I love you, Uncle Bluebeard. But I'll be sailing for England with the next merchant ship. Somehow I'll make it. I have to live according to my principles and I refuse to live a life that's wrong. A pirate's life is not for me!"


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Tom feel when his uncle tried to convince him to stay with the pirates?
A. He felt like it would be hard to go away from his family and friends, but still he knew he had to leave.

Q. Is it OK to keep on doing something that is wrong because that is what you're used to?
A. No. We should try to change and do what is right from now on.

Ages 6-9

Q. Do you think that it is a sign of strength or weakness to change your way of doing things once you realize that certain ideas that you always thought were true really aren't? Why?
A. A natural part of growth is coming to gain new and deeper understandings about life and what is really true. In fact a thoughtful person never stops growing and changing even as an adult. At first it might feel uncomfortable to admit to ones-self and to others that we had been mistaken. But a person who can go on and change himself for the better in spite of those feelings has shown great strength and in the end will be respected by both himself and by others.

Q. Can you think of a time when you made changes in your life based on your better understanding of the truth?

Q. If Tom had listened to his uncle and decided to stay, do you think he would ever have become happy living the life of a pirate?
A. While it is possible that Tom might have learned to 'cope' and start to get used to a pirate's life, he never truly would feel happy. Deep down he would always know that he was living a life based on improper values. A person can only really be happy when he feels that he is living a life based on truth.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What would you say takes priority: being comfortable or being moral? Why?
A. Everyone enjoys being comfortable and there is nothing wrong with that per se. However this should not become our highest value. True enjoyment of life comes when we begin to live for what we understand as real, worthwhile values. Such a life will give us peace of mind and a big spiritual uplift that will more than compensate for any lack of comfort involved.

Q. When Tom made the decision to leave Pirate Island he hurt the feelings of his uncle and possibly others. Is it really justified to hurt their feelings in order to live according to our values? Why or why not?
A. It is very important to be aware of and sensitive to the feelings of others. Treating people kindly is one of the highest values. Yet God has put each one of us into the world with a special mission, to discover and live according to the truth. While we must make our utmost effort to go about this in a way which will not offend others, nevertheless ultimately we must be prepared to follow the path of truth even if it temporarily does

Q. Can you think of a time when you made changes in your life based on your better understanding of the truth?