My parents were people of modest means. Moreover, they always considered the needs of their children before their own. I never felt deprived as a child even though I lived in a low-income neighborhood and did not go on fancy vacations to Disneyworld. Life was joyous because my parents, by example, found joy in the everyday, in spending time with their children, in working as volunteers on behalf of the local synagogue, and in regularly visiting our extended family and friends. I do not recall ever envying other kids because I was satisfied with my lot in life. I remember that my favorite Bar Mitzvah gift was a simple basketball given to me by my friends Kenny and Marilyn Beeman.
Being happy with one’s lot in life is the dramatic crux of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka owns the biggest, most successful chocolate factory in the world. One day he realizes that he is getting old and that he needs to plan for someone else to take over the company. He devises a plan to reveal the secret of his chocolate recipes to five lucky kids who will be invited to visit inside Wonka’s chocolate factory. Wonka will then choose one of the kids to be the heir to his chocolate kingdom. The five fortunate children are those who find golden tickets inside Wonka chocolate bars.
The winners of the tickets include Augustus Gloop, a gluttonous young man who cannot stop eating. Veruca Salt, a very spoiled young girl who demands and receives whatever she wants from her parents, Violet Beauregard, an extremely competitive girl who always thinks she will win any kind of competition, Mike Teevee, who is hooked on violent TV games, and, lastly, Charlie Bucket, a modest, poor boy from a loving family.
The factory tour is filled with surprises and Willy Wonka’s special inventions. When the kids interact with them, there are consequences that remove them from the competition. The only one left is Charlie Bucket, who refuses the prize of factory ownership when it entails living in the factory and leaving his family. Charlie admires Willy Wonka; but does not want to lead his kind of life, a disconnected life that was largely shaped by his dysfunctional relationship with his father. For Charlie, family is everything.
I recently read an autobiographical sketch of a Torah teacher of mine written when he was in his seventies. Much of what he wrote echoes Charlie’s take on what are the truly important things in life. He writes: “I grew up in a home wherein chocolate was very, very much a treat. This was a moral issue: we should have necessities, but we should not have so many luxuries.” The emphasis is on cherishing values, not things.
Charlie, accustomed to living humbly, does not feel he is missing anything. This coincides with the maxim of our Sages who say that the wealthy person is the one that is satisfied with his lot, who does not live for more acquisitions. Moreover, my teacher wrote: “If I had to point to a single success, I think, without a doubt, it is my family.” Charlie Bucket shares this perspective. He recognizes that Willy Wonka, the king of the chocolate kingdom who possesses all the accouterments of wealth one could ask for, is a lonely person alienated from family and friends in the real world. Charlie’s happiness, in contrast, is rooted in family connections with parents and grandparents who love him dearly. It is this kind of unconditional family love that gives Charlie a wisdom and contentment far beyond his years. It is worthy of emulation.