Only Imitate the Great
We have to be careful not to copy people's bad behavior. In this week's portion (Deut. 12:30-31) the Torah instructs the people not to imitate the idol worshiper's cruel and mistaken ways. So too, we have to be careful not to imitate people around us who are doing wrong.
In our story, a kid struggles with the currents pulling him to go with the flow.
"You call this a portion?" a kid snarled to the older man serving in his summer camp's cafeteria lunch line. "Why, I need a microscope just to see what it even is - then again, maybe I don't wanna know. Anyway, put that tiny thing back and give me a different one!" the kid demanded. The man sighed and switched the kid's portion.
Jay, who was a couple of places behind in line and had been watching the whole thing, turned to Ed, the kid one place in front of him and whispered, "Isn't it rude, the way that kid's talking to him?"
"So what?" Ed shrugged as the line moved forward. "You must be new here. At this camp, everyone does it. It's the only way to get anything decent around here. Anyway, it's my turn." Ed held his tray up to the server, "Give me something decent, or you're going to have to scrape it up off the floor when we leave!"
After a few more snarks, he finally took his food and Jay, who was indeed new at the camp, reached the front of the line. Silently he took the portion the man offered and moved on with a nod.
And so it went day after day, Jay watched the campers bad-mouth, rank on, make fun of, and generally trample over the various food-servers, janitors and service personnel. And while he - who'd always believed in treating everyone with respect - didn't join in, he also found himself kind of 'getting used' to their behavior. It didn't shock him anymore and started to seem almost okay.
One lucky lunchtime, Jay, who by now had become expert in the camp's schedule and layout, had actually beaten all the other campers in their mad dash to the cafeteria and was very first in line.
He grabbed his tray and brought it forward to the server, who he hadn't seen there before, who proceeded to give him the puniest piece of chicken on the platter.
Jay gulped. He was really hungry after a whole morning of sports and by now also an expert on the rude, rowdy lingo his campmates hurled around, got ready to let loose a string of insults and epithets that would put this stingy server in his place. He opened his mouth, but the words seemed stuck. He'd never mouthed off at an adult before. Sure, the other guys did it all the time, but deep down Jay knew it wasn't right for them - and it wasn't right for him.
"Uh, thanks," he said. "Do you think I could please possibly have a bigger piece, though?"
The server looked up, as if checking Jay out, then shrugged, "Why not?" he said, switching pieces and sending Jay on with a grin.
As he moved on, Jay looked back, for no special reason, and noticed that the line was moving faster than usual - even the most obnoxious kids were just taking their portion and hurrying on.
He sat down and Ed joined him.
"I got a lousy portion, but nothing I could do," Ed grumbled, picking at his plate. Before Jay could question him, the boy went on, "With 'Drill Sergeant,' the head counselor taking over for the server, who'd gone home sick today, I didn't dare complain or he would've had me bounced from the camp - or if I was lucky, maybe just had me do a gazillion jumping jacks instead. Hey," he looked at Jay's portion, "how'd you end up with such a big, good piece?"
Jay stopped chewing as he realized just how close he'd come to getting 'chewed up' himself by getting drawn into his fellow camper's improper ways. "It was simple. I just asked nicely."
Q. How did Jay feel at first when he saw how the other campers were speaking to the server?
A. He felt like it was rude and wrong.
Q. How did he feel later on when he was first in line?
A. He'd started to feel like he could act rude like everyone else, but in the end, he didn't - and was very glad.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from what happened?
A. Sometimes a person can be drawn to act like the people around him, even if he knows it's not right. It's so important to stick to our values and not give in.
Q. What was wrong with the campers' behavior?
A. Every person deserves to be treated with respect - especially those much older than we are. If the campers weren't satisfied, it was okay to express it, as long as they did it in a respectful way.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think people tend to imitate those around them?
A. Human beings are social creatures. It is our nature to want to fit in. However, we also have the power - though it's not easy - to remain independent and refuse to 'go with the flow' if we don't like the way it's 'flowing.'
Q. Can a person be influenced by his or her environment for the good?
A. Sure. If we want, we can surf that same human need to be social in the right direction, by hanging around with those whose values we admire.