Rules Are Tools
Nobody likes to be told he has to do something. Yet rules and obligations are often necessary and a part of everyone's life. The name of this week's Torah portion, (Tetzaveh) refers to rules and obligations the people had while traveling through the desert, and the better we learn to appreciate and accept our own life's obligations, the happier we'll be.
In our story, a kid discovers that rules can be tools.
Kenny, the assistant counselor, walked to the cabin to make sure the campers were ready for their weekly bunk inspection. He'd expected to see a spic 'n span bunk, and the bunk was pretty clean, but one of the kid's - Marc's - area more closely resembled a jungle. His cot wasn't made and his locker shelves were overflowing with all kinds of junk. Nor was he wearing a camp t-shirt like he was supposed to be that day.
"Hey, what's going on?" Kenny said to Marc. "We're having inspection in just another few minutes!"
"So what?" Marc said with a sassy grin.
"So it means you have to make your bed and clean up your stuff," Kenny said. "There are rules here and you have to follow them."
"Who says I have to?" Marc retorted. "Who needs dumb rules?"
"These are rules that you and everyone else agreed to before you were accepted into camp," Kenny said. "But more than that, it's important for all of us. Keeping things neat and in order is the only way so many guys will be able to share one cabin and live together smoothly. So, come on, get going - now!"
"And if I don't?" Marc challenged.
"If you don't," Kenny said, "then you can forget about..." He was about to punish Marc, who loved baseball, by saying he was grounded from that morning's game. But then he had a better idea...
Later that day...
"Strike three!" Marc called out from the pitcher's mound as he blew the pitch by the swing of the batter standing at home plate.
The batter started walking back to the bench, when Kenny ran out after him, said something to him and taking the smiling kid by the arm, brought him back to the batter's box.
"Hey, he's not up anymore." Marc called out. "It's the next kid's turn."
"Nope. He's still up," Kenny said.
"But that was strike three!" Marc protested.
"So what? Pitch again."
Marc scowled and threw another fast ball, which the batter swung at again and missed.
"Okay?" Marc yelled. "Next batter!"
"Uh, uh." Kenny shook his head. "This kid's still up."
"No way! He's out!" Marc shouted, turning red and running up to the assistant counselor.
"Who says so?" Kenny smiled.
"But that's the rule of the game!"
"Who says we need dumb rules to play a ball game?" Kenny said, by now almost laughing. The batter and some of the other guys playing were starting to snicker too. But Marc was not laughing.
"That's ridiculous. Everyone knows you have to follow the rules - three strikes and you're out. If there aren't any rules you won't be able to play a ballgame!"
"And you won't be able to live together in a bunk ... if there aren't any rules," Kenny grinned.
Marc was about to argue more, then he shook his head and said, "Okay, I get it. I keep the rules and agree to clean my part of the bunk when I get back there - and you keep the rules and let the next batter come to the plate - deal?"
"Deal! Marc," Kenny smiled, "you may be a pitcher, but I think you just hit a home run."
Q. How did Marc feel about having to keep the rules at first?
A. He didn't feel like he had to keep them.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized that rules were needed for things to go smoothly.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Marc learned that day?
A. He didn't believe that rules were important and they certainly didn't apply to him. But after he realized that you couldn't have a real ball game without them, he understood that they were important for other things in life, too.
Q. Do you think life would be better if there were no rules?
A. While it might sound like fun, soon enough it wouldn't be. Life's 'rules' help people get along together and helps each of us feel more secure.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think a person is more praiseworthy for doing a good deed because he 'wants', or because he 'is obligated' to do it?
A. In a sense, it's even greater to do things we 'are obligated' to do, because we are overcoming the human nature of resisting obligations.
Q. Is every rule in life good?
A. Certainly not and a thinking person must judge which rules are right to follow. However, in general, any rule that isn't grossly unfair and is in the common good should be adhered to.