Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
"With all due respect" isn't just a saying - it's a way to live. In this week's portion (Deut. 28:50), the Torah refers to disrespectful chutzpah as negative, cruel behavior. The Torah way is not to brazenly "mouth-off" at people, but to speak and behave respectfully.
In our story, a couple of kids get some 'speech therapy' from an unusual source.
Tropical fish, colorful cockatoos and furry creatures of all descriptions surrounded Terri and her friend, Jill, from all sides. No, they weren't on a jungle photo-safari or even at the zoo; they were walking the well-lit, welcoming aisles of the local Pet Paradise mega-center.
They'd picked out their purchases - a couple of silicon chew-toys for Terri's terrier (yes, people would kid her about it) and brought them up to the checkout counter, where a gray-haired salesclerk wearing a green Pet Paradise apron was busy trying to insert a roll of receipt-paper into the computerized cash register.
"Ahem..." said Terri, to get the man's attention.
"Be right with you, girls," he smiled.
Not in the mood to be kept waiting, Terri looked at her friend and said loud enough for the man to hear her, "You'd think if you worked in a store you would know what you're doing."
"Yeah," Jill nodded. "Hey, do you think we have all day?" she called out to the man.
"Sorry, just having a little register problem," he said apologetically, trying to get the top of the machine open as he twisted the roll of paper this way and that.
Although they'd really only been waiting about 30 seconds, the girls weren't at all happy about the postponement of their purchase.
"I don't think it's the register that has the problem," Jill sneered loudly, looking at her friend and rolling her eyes.
"Yeah, ha, ha," Terri answered with a forced laugh, "the guy has a problem ... lack of brains!"
The older man, red-faced and obviously unnerved by the girls' comments, clenched his teeth and said, "I'll be right back and get this fixed right away."
As he scurried off to the back room, the two girls smirked at each other; feeling satisfied that their 'little bit of chutzpah' had made their point.
"Ha, hah! Lack of brains!"
Terri turned toward the shrill voice calling at them, but saw nobody there.
"Know what you're doing! ... Lack of brains ... ha, ha ... Know what you're doing!" the rude sounding voice rang out.
Annoyed and embarrassed, the two friends looked to the right and left to see who would be impolite enough to speak to them like that in public ... then they looked up...
"Lack of brains ... ha, ha..."
Hanging above them was a birdcage, with a big sign that said: 'I'm Tony, The Talking Parrot!'
The two burst out in bubbles of relieved laughter. It was only a bird! But their relief quickly turned to shame as they realized who the parrot had been parroting.
"Wow, is that how we sounded - so rude?" Terri said, shaking her head.
"Yeah," Jill nodded glumly, "It's really not cool, huh?"
As they spoke, the gray-haired man returned with a small screwdriver. He kept his eyes down as the register easily opened and he inserted the roll of paper.
"Um, sir..." Jill said softly.
"Don't worry, it's ready to go," the man answered tensely. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"No," Terri said. "We're sorry for how we spoke to you so rudely." She and Jill nodded.
As the salesclerk's frown relaxed into a nodding smile, the friends looked at each other - and then up at the seemingly smiling parrot - who had taught them that speaking disrespectfully was ... for the birds.
Q. How did the kids feel at first about the way they spoke to the salesclerk?
A. They felt like there was nothing wrong with it.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They regretted what they did and realized it was wrong to be so rude.
Q. What life-lesson do you think the kids learned that day?
A. When things don't go our way - or even if we're just in the mood - we can feel it's okay to 'mouth off' and speak to people with chutzpah. However, this not only hurts people but it is a very un-spiritual trait. The Torah way is to always act - and speak - with respect.
Q. Do you think that the salesclerk's age should have had any bearing on how the kids should speak to him?
A. Although we should speak to everyone with respect, it is a special value to do so with those significantly older than we are.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you define 'chutzpah' as a positive or negative trait?
A. It is one of the most negative traits there is. It is a type of cruelty, which corrodes relationships and damages the fabric of society. It is the opposite of how the Torah guides us to act.
Q. Can you think of any positive use of the trait of chutzpah? A. When confronted by pressure (peer, or otherwise) to act against our values, we can use chutzpah to rebel against this, and to act properly.