Watch Out For Words
Words can be weapons. In this week's Torah portion (Lev. 25:17) the Torah teaches us the important value of being careful not to hurt or embarrass anyone with words - even if we're joking around.
In our story, a kid discovers that not all innocent jokes are as innocent as they might seem.
Camp Whitelake looked like an anthill, as dozens of first-day campers dragged their duffle bags across the lush, green lawn on their way to their assigned bunks.
"Wow, can you believe it? It's another summer already," Dan said to his friend, Marc, as they pulled their luggage along.
"What do you mean 'already'?" Marc said, "I'd been counting the days since December."
The kids laughed as they dragged their bags up the rough-cut, wooden stairs that led to their bunk. Once inside, Marc started unpacking his things. He glanced up at the kid who was putting his stuff on the bed on top of his - and then he looked again.
"Hey, don't I know you?" he said to the short, red-haired boy.
The kid looked puzzled for a moment and then grinned. "You're Marc, right? I'm Alan - we went to the same camp once years ago, back when we were little kids. This is my first year here at Whitelake."
"Yeah, yeah. That's right," Marc said, in front of the few kids had gathered around to hear the interesting coincidence. "And now we're going to be sharing a bunk bed - cool."
Marc started unpacking his stuff, and then stopped. "Hey, wait a minute," he said loudly with a big grin. "If I remember right, you weren't exactly the best back then at keeping your mattress 'dry' at night. Maybe I should be sleeping somewhere else?" Marc then burst into a big laugh. "Just kidding!" he said, slapping Alan on the back as the kids standing around giggled. Alan also laughed and after quickly making his bed, stepped outside.
"Why'd you say that?" Dan whispered to Marc, tugging on his friend's arm.
"You really embarrassed that kid - you know, about how he used to be."
"What?" Marc waved his arm in dismissal. "I know he's not like that now - I was just joking around. Besides, even he thought it was funny, in case you didn't notice. Come on, let's go get some of that watermelon they're serving in the snack room."
As the two of them walked out of the cabin, they heard some muffled screechy sounds coming from the patch of woods off to the side.
"Maybe it's a cat," Dan said.
"In these woods - more likely a skunk!" Dan chuckled. "I'm going to go check it out." He tiptoed several yards along the dried pine needles and then glanced over a big rock. There, sitting on the other side - was Alan. His head was buried in his folded arms and he was shaking with crying sobs. As quietly as he came, Marc backpedaled, his face now red with shame.
"Well, was it a skunk?" Dan asked as they started walking on.
"Sure was," Marc mumbled. I'm the skunk, Marc thought to himself, who hurt someone so much with his thoughtless joke. From now on I'll chew on my words a hundred times before I spit them out.
Q. How did Marc feel at first about what he'd said to Alan?
A. He felt he was just joking around and there was nothing wrong with that.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. Once he saw how much he'd embarrassed Alan, he was sorry he'd said it.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Marc learned that day?
A. He'd assumed that even though he was saying something embarrassing, it was okay because it was only words and he was joking around. But when he saw his words' powerful ability to hurt someone, he gained a new appreciation of being careful about what he said.
Q. Since what Marc said was true - doesn't that make it okay?
A. While perhaps better than an outright lie, saying harmful or embarrassing things that are true, still isn't right.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Isn't a person supposed to be able to just 'take a joke' and not feel hurt over things that people say?
A. No more than he is supposed to just 'take a punch' and not feel the pain of a fist on his nose. Hurtful words simply hurt, and labeling them as a 'joke' doesn't make them any less of an assault.
Q. Does that mean there is something ethically wrong with 'put-down' comedy?