Accidentally On Purpose
There's a difference between doing something by accident and doing it on purpose. In this week's Torah portion (Num. 35:16-25) we learn that while someone who intentionally murders an innocent person is liable for a death penalty, one who accidentally kills another is not. So too, we should know that - even if the result is the same - we should look at something done by accident and something done on purpose, in two different ways.
In our story, a kid discovers that sometimes it's the intention that makes all the difference.
TAKING A SPILL
Jane liked most of camp. The Olympic-sized swimming pool was a dream. The sports fields were top-notch. The counselors were nice and (at least usually) let her do what she wanted. But there was one thing about camp she simply couldn't stand ... the food.
True, she was a bit spoiled in the food department. At home, her older brother - studying to be a chef - often treated her to his five-star cooking experiments. And if not, there were plenty of great take-out spots just a phone call away. But here at camp everything tasted like cardboard.
Of course, she'd complained to the kitchen manager, but the woman had refused to even listen. "Everyone else likes it just fine," she'd said.
But Jane didn't care about what everyone else liked. She hated the food and also wished there was some way she could make a protest against that mean manager.
These were the thoughts on her mind as, like every morning, she sat moping over her breakfast tray of cardboard eggs, cardboard toast and (liquid) cardboard orange juice. Suddenly she heard a crash-smash-splash behind her.
A kid at the next table had accidentally knocked over a full pitcher of juice! The table, chairs and floor were all a big, sticky, orange mess. Jane saw the kitchen manager rush over - boy, was the kid who knocked it over gonna get it! Jane thought. But to her surprise, the manager just gave the kid, who was beet-red with embarrassment, a little shrug, grabbed a mop, and cleaned it up.
Wow, Jane thought, for a big mess like that, no punishment, no nothing.
Suddenly she felt a grin grab the corners of her mouth and tug them toward the fans on the ceiling. She'd have her protest after all...
That day at lunch, Jane made sure to sit close to the edge of a table and make sure there was a full-to-the-brim pitcher of (cardboard) Kool-Aid in front of her. While the kids sitting next to her were distracted, she gave the pitcher a protest shove with her elbow and smiled as the red, sticky liquid went splash dancing on the floor.
As she'd expected, the kitchen manager came running over holding a mop. But not as Jane expected, instead of just giving her a mild shrug like he had to the other kid - the manager handed the mop to her!
"Okay, clean it up," she said with a no-nonsense voice.
Jane was stunned. "W-why me?" she asked.
"You're the one who spilled it, aren't you?"
"Well, yeah," Jane said, since there was no denying it. "But today at breakfast another kid spilled a pitcher and you mopped it up. So it's simply not fair to now expect me to do it."
Jane was certain that her logic was perfect and the kitchen manager would soon get to work - but no such luck.
"Young lady, if you don't clean up every drop of the mess you made, I'm going to report you to the head counselor."
"But why?" Jane insisted, now feeling very on-the-spot. "Me and that other kid did the exact same thing."
"You did not," the woman responded. "I saw both spills happen. This morning the girl spilled the pitcher totally by accident, so why should I get upset at her? Just now, you spilled it on purpose. The two spills were not the same at all."
As Jane dragged the wet mop across the sticky floor, she realized that what she'd done - and what she'd learned from it - had all been no 'accident.'
Q. How did Jane feel when she first spilled the pitcher of drink?
A. She was happy that now the manager was going to have to clean it up like she had before when another kid did the same thing.
Q. How did she feel at the end?
A. She realized that what she'd done was different, since she'd spilled it on purpose.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jane learned that day?
A. She'd thought that doing the same thing by accident, and doing it on purpose should be treated the same way. But she discovered that there was a big difference.
Q. Why do you think the kitchen manager treated the two spills differently?
A. The first spill was an accident. While perhaps the kid could have been more careful, she wasn't intentionally trying to make a mess and cause the manager extra work, so it could be easily forgiven. But Jane's spill was an intentional unkind act that shouldn't have gone without consequences.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why should it matter what a person's intention is, if the end result is the same?
A. Life is more than just a sum of its physical events. True, a spilled pitcher of drink makes no more or less physical mess if it's spilled on purpose or spilled accidentally. However, intentional negative acts make much more of a 'spiritual' mess - such as create bad feelings within and between people - than the same act done by accident.
Q. Is there a difference between good, positive acts done accidentally and those done intentionally?
A. While on the surface, the result might look the same, someone who does something positive, on purpose, is not only improving his character, but is giving a spiritual 'positive charge' to the world.