Try To Be Fair
Everybody wants to be fair, but sometimes it's not easy. In our Torah portion this week, Moses tells the Jewish people about the system of Torah courts that he set up for them. He made sure to appoint fair judges, and he warned them not to show favoritism. "Small and great alike you shall hear," the Torah tells us.
This means that the judges should only decide a case based upon who's right. They shouldn't favor a poor man because they feel sorry for him, or a rich man because they're afraid of his power or influence.
We learn from here how important it is to try to be fair, no matter what.
In our story, two sisters learn about being fair and not showing favoritism.
It was the first day at sleep-away camp.
All the new campers were scrambling around like bees in a hive, moving into their cabins and choosing the bunks where they would sleep that summer.
"Oh, what a great spot," thought Debbie, looking at an upper bunk in the corner. It was a nice quiet space, with its own window. She lifted up her suitcase and swung it up onto the bed to claim her place.
But at the very same second her suitcase hit the mattress, she heard a thump as another suitcase swung over from the other side.
"Hey!" Debbie exclaimed. She peered over to the red-headed girl standing on the other side of the bed. Smiling nervously, she said, "Excuse me, didn't you realize that this bunk is claimed?"
Ruthi, the other girl, stood her ground. "Yes it is claimed, by me." She answered politely but firmly.
After a few more words were exchanged, both girls realized they were getting nowhere in resolving their dispute.
"I have an idea," said Debbie. "Let's go to the counselor and let her decide."
When Ruthi agreed, Debbie smiled to herself. "The bunk is as good as mine," she thought. What Ruthi didn't know was that Leah, the counselor, was Debbie's older sister.
Meanwhile, Leah was in her room, busily preparing for the new campers. Hearing a knock on the door, she opened it and found the two girls standing anxiously outside. "What is it, girls?" she asked.
Debbie and Ruthi both blurted out their sides of the story.
Ruthi explained to Leah how she needed the bunk for medical reasons -- she had asthma and needed to sleep near an open window, while Debbie felt she should get it anyway because she saw it first. They both looked expectantly at Leah and waited for her decision. Debbie gave her sister a little wink, certain that Leah would rule in her favor.
After thinking for a few minutes, Leah cleared her throat. "Well, girls," she said. "After listening to both of you, I think the upper bunk should go to ... Ruthi." Ruthi smiled and skipped happily out to set up her new bunk.
Debbie was left standing there with her mouth open. "Leah, how could you?" she asked. Her sister threw her hands up and said, "I'm sorry. I felt Ruthi needed the bunk more."
"But... " sputtered Debbie. "How could you have given that beautiful space to a stranger, and not to your very own sister?"
"Debbie," Leah said warmly, "You know how much I care for you. But the two of you came to me to make a decision and I had to make a fair one. The fact that you're my sister had absolutely nothing to do with it. I only gave the bunk to who I felt deserved it. I would have happily given it to you, had you needed it more than Ruthi, whether you were my sister or not."
"Tell me" Leah continued. "How would you feel if the counselor was Ruth's sister? Would you have wanted her to give Ruth the upper bunk just because they were sisters?"
"No way!" exclaimed Debbie. "It would be totally ... unfair."
Leah laughed. "So?" she said.
"So," answered Debbie, smiling and rolling her eyes. "So, I guess I'll be sleeping on the bottom bunk tonight. Can you give me a hand with my suitcase, Sis?"
"Sure," answered Leah. "Anything for my kid sister."
Q. Is it right to play favorites with somebody just because he or she your relative or friend?
A. No, we should try to be fair to everyone.
Q. How would you feel if you wanted to join in a game with some kids but they wouldn't let you because they were all cousins and you weren't?
Q. Do you think that it would be fair if Leah thought that Debbie should have the bunk but did not give it to her because she was afraid of showing favoritism? Why?
A. That would have been just as unfair as choosing her because she was her sister. To be fair means not showing extra favor or less favor to people because of who they are; it means ruling in favor of whoever is right. In our story, Ruthi was right because she needed the bunk for her health.
Q. It is known that some great judges who sat on courts of Torah law would blindfold themselves before listening to a case. Why do you think they did that?
A. Because they didn't want to be influenced even by what the two litigants looked like. They realized how easy it is to be influenced and to make an unfair decision, so they went to great lengths to be as unbiased as possible.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. If someone had suffered from unfair treatment in the past, do you think it's right to go out of one's way to favor him now even if by doing so it will be unfair to other people? Why?
A. While it's unfortunate that the person has unfairly suffered, and we should definitely make sure that he no longer does, if we show him preferential treatment now at the expense of causing a second person unfair suffering, we are only adding injustice to injustice. Perhaps the best option is to try to be totally fair to everyone from the start.
Q. There is a famous legend of Robin Hood, a man who would "steal from the rich and give to the poor." In your opinion was this man doing a good thing? Why?
A. He may have had good intentions, but really what he was doing was wrong. Stealing from the rich is still stealing. If he wanted to help the poor he could have figured out some way to do it without hurting anybody else.