Treating Others Properly
People tend to assume that the way we should treat others somehow depends on how they treat us. If someone is kind to us, we'll be kind back. If they're not kind, it's okay to get even, and give them back a taste of their own medicine.
But we learn from the example of Joseph in this week's Torah portion that there can be another way. Joseph's brothers had treated him very unkindly earlier in life. They even kidnapped him, and sold him into slavery. Years later the brothers meet up once again in Egypt. By now, Joseph has become a powerful prince, and could easily take whatever revenge on his brothers that he pleases. Yet he chooses to treat them with the greatest kindness and respect. What was Joseph's secret? He understood that God wants us to treat others properly, regardless of how they treat us. He knew that God watches over and guides everything that happens, and ultimately will give each person whatever he deserves as a consequence to his actions. We need only be concerned about "keeping our side of the street clean," by treating others the way we know is right.
In our story, a boy tries to meet the challenge of doing what's right, even when others are not.
SINKING THE BUCKET
"Man, what a mess!" groaned Jacob Samuels, as he turned on the lights to the gym. He and his Neighborhood League basketball team, the Flames, had arrived for their evening practice at the local basketball court and found the place more resembling the local dump.
The guys shook their heads in disbelief. There were candy wrappers and empty soda cans on the now-sticky gym floor, and the locker room looked like a tornado hit it.
Recently, the guys had made an arrangement with the Eagles, another team in their neighborhood, to share the little-used gym, practicing on alternating nights. But it seemed as if the Eagles had flown the coop the night before, without bothering to clean up after themselves.
It took Jacob and his friends almost half an hour just to get the place usable, with their anger towards the other team growing every passing minute.
Eventually they got into their practice, and started to loosen up. In the process, they managed to make a pretty decent mess of their own. Two hours flew by, and it was time to wrap it up for the night. The guys quickly got changed, and started to head out. But a loud, piercing whistle, stopped them in their tracks.
It was Jacob who was coming out of the locker room with a whistle around his neck. "Hey guys, wait up! We forgot something." he called out.
The boys looked at him and shrugged.
"We did a good job tonight messing up the place." Jacob said. "Let's clean up after ourselves before we go."
His teammates burst out in protest. "What?!" shouted Rich. "Clean up for those dumb Eagles, after the mess they left for us? Forget it!"
"Yeah!" seconded Larry, "Let them see how it feels tomorrow to walk into a dumpster!"
The boys all glared at Jacob, but he stood his ground. "Look, just because those guys chose to act like animals, doesn't mean we should also. We made a mess and its only right to clean it up. You guys can do what you want, but I'm sticking around and doing what has to be done."
Jacob grabbed a broom and hoped the others would join him. But the guys weren't buying, and within a few moments, Jacob was left alone in the gym, holding the broom.
The boy looked around. The place was really trashed from their rowdy practice session. He sighed as he realized that working by himself he would probably be there half the night. Jacob felt tempted to just scrap the idea and take off like everybody else. After all, the Eagles didn't seem to care, and even his own teammates didn't care -- why should he?
"No," he thought to himself, "I've gotta do it. It's just not right to leave a mess like this for someone else, ever. What does the way anybody else acted have to do with it?"
He dutifully started into his work when he heard the door open. It was Rich.
"Um, hi Jacob. I thought about what you said, and you're right…so I came back to help you out."
Jacob smiled as the two of them began cleaning up together. But they had barely gotten started when three more boys showed up to help. Soon, nearly the whole team had returned and, working together, the gym was soon spotless! As the guys flicked off the lights, and finally headed home, they all walked out feeling good about themselves, glad that they had chosen taking responsibility instead of taking revenge.
Q. How did Jacob's teammates feel at first about cleaning up after themselves?
A. They felt that since the other team didn't clean up for them, they didn't have to either.
Q. How did Jacob feel differently?
A. He understood that cleaning up after oneself was the right thing to do, and what the other team did to them had nothing to do with it. We have to always try to do what's right and not base it on what others are or are not doing.
Q. Should the way we treat others be linked to how they treat us?
A. Its normal to feel like being nice to those who are nice to us, and not to be kind to those who aren't to us. However there really shouldn't be any link between the two. God wants us to be kind, loving people. And while we may have to adjust how to best do so according to the circumstances, we shouldn't base it on whether others reciprocate our kindnesses or not.
Q.But wouldn't Jacob and his teammates have taught the Eagles a lesson if they had left the gym a mess?
A. By cleaning up after themselves, they taught the other team a more important lesson -- how to take responsibility, rise above petty revenge, and to do what's right just because it's right.
Q. Can you think of a time when you felt like taking revenge? What did you do?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. How can a person teach himself to be able to treat people right, unconditionally?
A. It is very helpful to remember that our most important relationship is the one we have with God. He gives us all that we have, and hopes that we will act based upon proper values. God wants us to treat others well. This value exists independently of how we are treated by others. We can be sure that God is watching out for us, and in the end will make sure that we -- and everyone else -- will get exactly what we deserve. Our only focus need be to do the right thing at any given moment.
Q. What does a person gain who is able to break out of the "revenge cycle," -- of feeling the need to get even?
A.He will begin to live a much happier, and more peaceful life. He will go about his day confidently, bringing good into the lives of everyone he meets. Ultimately others will treat him better as well, since his relationships with others are bound to improve. It pays to leave the getting even up to God, and instead just try to be the best people that we can be.
Q. Q. Can you think of a time when you felt like taking revenge? What did you do?