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The Crushed Cake

The Crushed Cake

For this group of fifth graders, the cake could not have tasted better.


Relaying the events of the day over supper, my husband, a teacher in a local Jewish school, told me how on this, the last day of school, he and his class of fifth-graders had an end-of-the-year party, celebrating everything they had learned this year. The event progressed nicely, with the principal offering a few words, followed by a fun, action-packed game, and then a short meal, accompanied by spirited singing.

As the kids were setting the tables for the meal, they set aside one table for the delectable goodies that some of the mothers had sent. One boy in the class, a shy, sensitive boy, had brought a particularly beautiful cake. His mother had apparently spent lots of time and dedication into preparing the cake, showing her pride of his accomplishments. The boy was visibly proud as he gingerly set the elaborate cake onto the table.

Still in its box, the cake flopped onto the floor, crushed and completely ruined.

And then, in the cramped classroom full of exuberant kids, the inevitable happened. Someone must have pushed by without looking where he was going, and inadvertently shoved the cake off the table. Still in its box, the cake flopped onto the floor, crushed and completely ruined.

My husband watched as the boy struggled to maintain his composure. He put on a brave face, and with the large, forced grin of someone trying hard not to cry, went about his tasks without saying a word to the classmate who ruined his cake. But after 10 minutes of struggling with that smile, his façade crumbled as the boy suddenly lost his composure and began sobbing. My husband put his arm around his student's shoulder and led him out of the room.

"Here," he said, as he looked into the boy's eyes and handed him a $20 bill. "Take this money and go over to the nearby bakery, and get whatever cake you wish for the entire class.

“But," he added, as the boy reached for the bill, "I want one thing from you in return.

"I watched you as your classmate pushed your beautiful cake onto the floor, and what I saw amazed me. I saw how you held back and did not say a word to the offender. I watched as you bravely tried to smile and overcome your emotions. So in exchange for this $20, I would like the merit of the mitzvah of your not having embarrassed another person publicly."

The boy stared wide-eyed at his teacher as the words registered. Slowly, a small smile formed at his lips as he gently shook his head, as if to say, “No, if you feel so strongly about this merit, then I’m not giving it up so fast.”

The boy handed back the money to my husband, and the two walked back together into the classroom, appeased.

But the story does not end here. My husband then turned to the class and asked, “What exactly are we celebrating here today? Why is it that some of your mothers spent precious time, preparing cakes for us to mark this occasion? Is it just so that we get to eat some good food? No, it is because these delicacies stand for something. They are a symbol of our joy at having completed another year of learning Torah. They are a symbol of your parents' pride in what you have accomplished. That's what these cakes are all about.

"This is a truly special cake."

"Here," he said, pointing at the messy, crushed cake ensconced forlornly in its box, "we have a cake that symbolizes all of that, and yet so much more. This is a cake that symbolizes both the love of learning, and the ability of one boy to win over his emotions. It is the symbol of a child who was able to struggle with, and then contain, his anger. This is a truly special cake."

The class grew quiet as everyone looked at the blushing boy. And then, every single one of them reached over and took a piece of the flat, messy cake.

And not a single crumb was left.

Published: July 31, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 23

(23) RUTH DALY, September 20, 2011 4:27 AM


(22) Reena, August 9, 2010 2:04 PM

ATT: Otis

Forget about what world you live in; that was not the point of the story. The point was what a beautiful thing the little boy did; he spared his classmates from shame even when he suffered such disappointment. Your idea would defeat the purpose of the whole story and in fact is totally irrelevant.

(21) Saul Pillai, August 6, 2010 1:00 AM


Thanks for the sharing. Really enjoyed it...

(20) Anonymous, August 4, 2010 8:00 PM

This story has the cover of being simplistic, but I'm sure this story will make a tremendous impact on this boy's life. Beautiful and moving.

(19) chava, August 4, 2010 12:23 PM

to David #17

The article stated clearly that the cake was shoved off the table "inadvertantly." Boys can be rambunctious. Classrooms are small. What boy in his right mind would purposely ruin a cake from which he and his friends were about to receive a piece? If I had been the kid who accidentally knocked over the cake, I think I would be so grateful that the teacher and the boy reacted as they did, and that the entire class received a lesson in musar rather than the one that David suggests, that I'd be more careful in the future than one could imagine, and my self-esteem wouldn't have suffered in the meantime. I'd have no bad taste in my mouth from the rebuke, but rather a good taste in my mouth from the cake and, more importantly, from the lesson that the entire class learned. Kol hakavod to the rebbe, to the boy for refusing to give up his mitzvah, and to the entire class for understanding what the rebbe taught.

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