Lech Lecha(Genesis 12-17)
To Tell the Truth
It's hard to go against the crowd. But what can we do when we know that it's the right thing to do? In our Torah portion, we learn about Abraham. The world in Abraham's time was worshipping meaningless idols and had forgotten that God existed. But Abraham knew better. Instead of just going along with everybody else, he stood up for what was true, and tried to teach the world to see it too. He took a big risk, but by telling the truth he helped bring God back into people's lives and went down in history as the father of the Jewish people.
In our story, a girl stands up for the truth even though it's hard.
"LET IT SLIDE"
Esther was frantically taking notes as Mrs. Hillman, the biology teacher, lectured on and on.
New to the school, Esther was really trying hard to make a good impression and do well in her classes, especially in biology, where Mrs. Hillman was known to be an excellent, if a very strict teacher.
"Okay class, please pay attention," Mrs. Hillman announced. "We will now look at a slide of an actual amoeba, the tiny one-celled creature that we have been learning about today. I would like each of you, row by row, to step up to the large microscope and view the amoeba."
One by one the students nervously approached the powerful microscope and peered into its eyepiece. Some of the shorter kids had to stand on their toes.
"The amoeba is the round, hair-like circle in the middle of the slide," said the teacher. "Do you see it?" she urged, as the first student looked into the lens. "Yes, ma'am," said the girl, and hurried back to her seat.
This scene repeated itself time after time as the class took turns eyeing the amoeba.
Finally, it was Esther's turn. Since she sat in the back row, she was practically the last one in line. She gingerly made her way to the intimidating looking piece of equipment as the even more intimidating teacher stood by her side.
Esther placed her eye on the eyepiece and squinted this way and that. But she was amazed to see ... absolutely nothing! It looked to her like an entirely blank slide, a white background with nothing on it.
"Well, do you see it?" repeated the teacher with a trace of impatience in her voice.
Esther lifted her head and said nothing. "What do I do?" she thought. "Everyone else saw it. If I admit that I didn't, everybody will think I'm dumb or something."
She was about to nod her head "yes" and walk back to her seat. Then she thought again, "But I didn't see any amoeba. The truth is the truth and I'm not going to just pretend no matter what anybody thinks."
Esther smiled sweetly at the teacher who was glaring in her direction. "So tell us, Esther, did you also see the amoeba or didn't you?"
Esther swallowed hard and said, "I'm sorry ma'am, but I didn't see an amoeba or anything else on the slide."
The teacher's face turned red as the class tried to stifle their giggles.
"Let me see that slide," said Mrs. Hillman, barely holding back her exasperation. She put her eye to the microscope and frantically turned all the different adjustments.
Finally she reached into the slide holder, pulled out the slide and gasped. "A blank slide," she muttered, but quickly regained her composure.
Smiling at Esther, she announced in a loud voice, "Young lady, I owe you an apology. There was indeed no amoeba to be seen. We must have accidentally put in the wrong slide."
Looking out at the class, Mrs. Hillman shook her head and said, almost to herself, "I'm glad to see that we have at least one student in this class with integrity. What did all the rest of you see?"
Esther made her way back to her seat. She felt a bit embarrassed by the whole scene but very glad that she had told the truth.
As she sat down, Judy, one of the top students in the class patted her on the back. With a wink she whispered. "I didn't see an amoeba either, and neither did anybody else. But you were the only one brave enough to take a stand and tell it like it is."
Esther smiled and felt that by telling the truth about a little amoeba she had made a step in the right direction.
Q. How did Esther feel when the teacher looked into the microscope and didn't see the amoeba either?
A. She felt happy that she had told the truth and that she hadn't just gone along with everybody else.
Q. None of the kids who looked into the microscope before Esther saw an amoeba either. It wasn't there. So why did they say that they saw it?
A. They were afraid to disagree with the teacher, and as each kid agreed, it became harder and harder for the next one to disagree.
Q. Why do you think people sometimes feel embarrassed or afraid to say what they truly believe when most of the people believe differently?
A. It feels risky to take a stand for what we think is true. People who disagree with us may try to put us down. But we learn from Abraham, who stood up for the truth, that even though the whole world disagrees, when something is important we have to take a stand.
Q. Sometimes a person will go along with a crowd and say and do things that he knows are wrong. How does that make him feel?
A. When a person goes along with a lie -- even though he knows better -- he feels that he is weak and he may even be angry deep inside for not having the strength to stand up for the right thing.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Should society always make its decisions according to "majority rules" -- i.e. what most people want -- or are there times when it's right to go against the wishes of the majority? Can you think of a specific example when one should go against the majority?
A. "Majority rules" is a good way to decide many things in a society. But there are some issues, particularly where values are involved, that stand above the majority's will. For example, in Nazi Germany, the majority of the people decided that it was right to kill Jews. But a few people would not go along, because they knew it was wrong, and helped to save Jewish lives.
Q. Would you say that there is such a thing as "the truth" or are all opinions equally valid and deserving of respect?
A. The "truth" is not the same as an "opinion." You can have an opinion which kind of ice cream is better -- chocolate or strawberry -- but you can't have an opinion that ice cream is pizza. The truth is that ice cream is ice cream and pizza is pizza. Anyone who insists otherwise is foolish and their opinion is not deserving of respect.
Similarly, we learn from the Torah what is truth about the right way to live. For example, we learn that it is wrong to murder. Anyone who holds the opinion that murder is okay is making a mistake. We must always respect all people, but we don't have to respect all opinions.