Acharei Mot(Leviticus 16-18)
Don't Follow the Herd!
It's natural to act like the people around us - but sometimes we shouldn't. In this week's Torah portion (Lev. 18:3) God instructs the Jewish people not to copy the bad habits of the nations around them. So too, we should try to stick around people with positive behavior and values, and only copy the good things the people around us do.
In our story, a kid discovers that it's not only cows who follow the herd.
The bus rambled down the dirt road and turned onto the gravel parking lot, letting off 60 city kids on their school field trip for a day of 'fun on the farm.'
"Should we join the horseback riding group first, go to the tractor garage, or with the guys going to milk the cows?" Jon asked his friend, Dave.
"Let's go to the cows - I see that's where Steve and his buddies are going," Dave said and started to walk. Jon didn't move.
"Well?" Dave asked him.
"I think that's a good reason not to go there," Jon said.
"You saw how those guys acted on the bus - ragging on the driver and throwing trash out the window. That's not cool, you know? And it's not the way I want to be."
"Who said we have to be like them? We'll just hang around them - you've got to admit they make things exciting - and we'll act like ... ourselves. You coming or not?"
Dave reluctantly agreed and the two boys rushed to the cow barn, where the demonstration was about to start.
"This dairy produces over twenty thousand gallons of milk per day," the farm employee leading the tour said with a smile, "and then it's packaged and shipped to..."
"Booooring!" a shout came for the middle of the crowd of kids. The man talking paused, looking flushed and embarrassed at Steve's rude comment, as some of the kids - mostly Steve's buddies - laughed. Jon gave Dave an 'I told you so' look, but his friend just shrugged.
Then the kids took turns milking some of the cows. That all went pretty well until it was Steve's turn, when the cow he had given a hard slap loudly bucked up and down in its pen. This time most of the kids - including Dave - burst out laughing.
"Since when is hurting an animal funny?" Jon snapped. Dave was quiet, realizing Jon was right.
It was time to go. The kids got on the bus with their generous refreshment bags of farm-fresh snacks they'd been given for the ride.
"Bombs away!" yelled out Steve, as he chucked one of his snack wrappers out the bus window. Some of his buddies did the same. Dave was about to do it as well - when he stopped himself. He hated littering - why was he suddenly doing that, just because Steve...
"Should we go to the mall when we get home?" Jon asked, interrupting his friend's thought.
"Huh? Yeah, that's what we planned to do, right? But first I've gotta go home to shower and change. After that trip we smell a little 'farm-y' you know what I mean?"
"Yeah," laughed Jon. "I guess you can't spend time in a cow barn and expect to come out smelling like roses."
"Nope," Dave said. "And I guess you were right after all - you can't spend time with guys acting bad and not expect to start to 'smell' like them either."
Q. How did Dave feel about hanging out with Steve and his gang at first?
A. Even though he knew they didn't behave properly, he didn't think it would affect him.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized that their bad behavior was rubbing off on him, too.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Dave learned that day?
A. He'd thought that he wouldn't be influenced by the negative actions and attitudes of the people he hung out with, but as he saw that Steve's rude behavior was causing him to think and act in a way that was against his values, he realized it wasn't true.
Q. Do you think that by spending more time with Steve, Dave would be able to influence him to improve?
A. Possibly, but it's more likely in such a situation that Dave would sink closer to Steve's behavior rather than the other way around.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. If everyone acts according to his own values, how is it possible to judge someone else's behavior as 'wrong' or 'right'?
A. Even without doing so, we can certainly decide it's 'wrong for us' and keep away. But in fact we do have an objective barometer of values; G-d gave the world the Torah, through the Jewish people, to provide just those guidelines we'd need to keep us on a spiritual and ethical course.
Q. What if we're involuntarily surrounded by people behaving in ways we don't want to emulate - is there anything we can do to prevent doing so?
A. If we at least keep consciously aware that how they are acting isn't for us and we're careful to monitor our own behavior, we are doing something very positive.