It's a cold, wintry day; the perfect day for a thick, hearty, home-made vegetable soup.

I stack a pile of vegetables on the kitchen counter. Little Yisroel is occupied with a playmate in the adjoining room and the baby is napping. I begin the methodic task of scrubbing, peeling and chopping. I make sure to include everyone's favorites: potatoes for one daughter, peas for another, zucchini for my husband and yams for the baby.

As the onions are sautéing, I hear rising voices emanating from the family room. I make a mental decision not to interject quite yet, with the hope that the boys will learn to resolve their conflict independently.

I'm cubing potatoes as I hear Yisroel's friend, Meir, bragging, "My father is m-u-c-h taller than Shlomo's father." I smile remembering that Meir's father isn't all that tall, but think how sweet it is that his son looks up to him so. "My father is even a little taller than yours." He pauses before continuing, "He's also v-e-r-y strong."

"You think your father is strong?" my son counters. "My father is m-u-c-h stronger! He can even lift this heavy book case." I can almost visualize Yisroel pointing to the impossibly heavy shelves attached to the wall.

Not to be outdone, Meir retorts, "Well…my father is t-h-e most smartest!"

"Ha!" Yisroel asserts himself. "Do you see all the books in this room? My father learned them all! And he's even got a whole other room full of even more books!"

"I'll bet he doesn't have as many as my Zaidy..."

"Well my Zaidy is the biggest…"

I'm chopping the carrots now, fervently hoping that I won't be called upon to rule on this argument until all the vegetables are nicely simmering. But the voices are rising as steadily as the bruised egos. I toss in a handful of peas, watch the medley of vegetables come to a gentle boil, and think how much like the pot of soup our lives are.

We each may view ourselves as the favorite vegetable that plays the central or most flavorful role. Every vegetable, though, adds its unique taste; some tangy, others zestful, others needed just for thickening, to hold the soup together. Some vegetables might be cubed larger, but like every human being in the pot of life, each emits an irreplaceable flavor.

Competitiveness is positive if it prods us to accomplish more in a constructive and mutually-encouraging manner. But it is destructive without the realization and awareness of the integral, valuable role played by every individual.


A short while later, argument forgotten, I call the boys into the kitchen. There's nothing like a hot nourishing bowl of soup to soothe the mind—and the ego...