Ark of Good Will
Sometimes life can be tough, especially when other people don't treat us the way we would like. But things sure go a lot more smoothly if we have a place in our lives where we feel safe. Our Torah portion relates the story of the big rain that flooded the world. But before it started to rain, God told Noah to build a special kind of boat -- called an ark -- that would float above the floodwaters and keep everyone inside safe. Noah brought every kind of animal into the giant ark, as well as his entire family. We can learn from this how to make our own "ark" by treating our family and the people around us nicely and with respect. Such an "ark of good will" can keep us afloat in times when things get rough in life.
In our story, two brothers learn to "build an ark" by treating each other with respect.
"THE HOME TEAM"
Mr. Levy had just gotten home from work. He sat down in his favorite easy chair and started to go through the day's mail. He was absorbed in his task when his two sons came barreling through the living room like a freight train.
Dave, the younger of the two, was holding on to a red, white and blue basketball, and Rafi his older brother was in hot pursuit.
"Gimme that ball, it's my turn to shoot!" Rafi yelled.
"No way! I'm up!" squealed his brother.
Mr. Levy didn't pay too much attention to the goings on. He knew that ball games and the arguments about them were all part of growing up and that the boys would work it out by themselves if he let them. But, as the boys turned the corner into the dining room, their father heard Rafi call his brother by a really nasty name, and the younger boy, who had just lost the ball, responded with something even worse.
Mr. Levy raised his eyebrow. "Where did they learn that?" he thought.
Soon, however, the fight was over and the two boys were once again peacefully shooting hoops in the backyard.
A few minutes later, the back door swung open and the boys saw their father walking out with a bottle of soda and three glasses. "Let's take a time out, guys," he said.
The boys, thirsty from their tough one-on-one, gladly obliged. The three of them sat down at the patio table and enjoyed the refreshing drinks.
Mr. Levy said, "Boys, I'm sorry to interrupt your game, but there's something we have to talk about."
"What's that?" huffed Rafi, still out of breath.
"Well, when you came through the house a little while ago, I heard you using the kind of language that I never taught you and that is not acceptable. Do you know what I'm referring to?"
The brothers blushed. Finally the older boy spoke up. "But Dad, that's how all the kids on the block talk. It's just part of the game." His brother shook his head in agreement.
Mr. Levy straightened up in his chair. "Rafi, do you think it's right to speak to each other like that? Do you think it makes somebody feel good to be called such a name?"
"No," Rafi answered. "But everybody talks that way," he added softly.
"Listen guys," said Mr. Levy, "I know what it can be like out there. In fact, where I work there are also people who talk tough and don't respect the people around them. Sometimes it's hard for me not to behave like they do."
"So what do you do, dad?" asked Dave.
"Well, I try to think about how nice it is at home, and how we all try so hard to treat each other with kindness and respect. When I do that, it helps me to stay strong and act decently even if the people around me aren't."
"So that's what we'll do too," said Dave.
Mr. Levy put his hand on his son's shoulder and said, "That's a good idea, but ... it will only work if we remember to speak to each other and treat each other properly when we are at home. Then, when we are out there we can take our home behavior with us."
Mr. Levy picked up the ball that had rolled near the table. He handed it to Rafi and said, "Go on back to your game, guys. And remember, no matter where you are, you can still be on the 'home team.' "
Q. Do you think that it's right to call people mean names?
A. No, it hurts people's feelings.
Q. How would you feel if your friends started calling you by a nasty name and then told you it was just a game?
A. Probably it would feel bad. It would hurt you just as much even if they said they were only playing.
Q. Why do you think some people behave nicely when they are at home, but when they go out, they act much differently?
A. Sometimes when people are at home they feel safe around their family who they know love them and accept them for who they are. They feel that they can "let down their guard" and behave in a gentle way. But when they are out in the world they act tough or cool because they think that's what they must do to get by, or because that's the way people around them are acting.
Q. Other people do the opposite -- they act very politely outside of their home, but when they get home they don't act so nicely. Why do you think that is?
A. It could be that these people feel like they have to make a good impression on "strangers" but with their families they can act however they want and not be rejected.
Q. Would you say that these are proper ways to behave? Why or why not?
A. While we can understand what might motivate this behavior, it's really not proper. The Torah way is to be the best we can be in all situations. Our family certainly deserves no less courtesy than do strangers, even if they will love us anyway. And when we're out in the world it's time to take the good values and traits that we learned at home with us.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think that a person can remain humane and ethically strong even if he finds himself in an environment where few others, or none, are behaving humanely? How?
A. A person in such a situation can turn himself into an "ark" and stay afloat by maintaining his values wherever he is. He can focus on the fact that he is his own person and there is no reason he must give in and take on the values of those around him if these values are counter to his.
Q. Do you sometimes act one way at home and another way outside the home? How do you act differently?
A. We all have, in a sense, two selves. There is the "mask" that we show to the world. This is based upon the impression we want to make on others or what we feel other people expect of us. We also have our "inner self," the part of us that we keep to ourselves. This part of ourselves contains our deepest and most private feelings, hopes and fears. In a way, our inner self is the ultimate "ark." We float around in a sea of masks, our own and those of others. Even when we have to "leave the ark" and deal with people that may be behaving in a way that is not proper, we can focus on our more godly inner self and let this knowledge steer us to act decently wherever we are. We can always remember who we are inside.