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Vayishlach(Genesis 32:4-36:43)

Behaving Modestly


If we've got it, we want to show it off. But is this really the best way? In our Torah portion, Esau and Jacob meet up after being apart for many years. "I've got a lot!" brags Esau, pointing to his wealth. But Jacob, forefather to the Jewish people, although also wealthy, responds with a modest "God has given me everything I need."

A theme throughout this Torah portion is the value of speaking and behaving modestly. Though we might think that showing off is the way to gain people's respect and admiration, in reality it is the modest person who is respected by himself and others.

 


In our story a boy demonstrates to his friends the value of modesty.

"CHECK-MATE"

The boys in the after-school chess club had a lot in common - keen minds that appreciated the analytical challenge of a chess game and a love of the competition of a high-level match.

They also all seemed to come from the "nicer" part of town. They were sharp dressers who would often show up in the latest clothes or accessories from Salisbury's, the most exclusive store in town.

One day, Ron stole the show by showing up wearing an official "chess-master's" wristwatch. It had a black-and-white checked leather strap and a built-in chess-computer that could challenge its wearer to a game on a tiny screen!

The other boys in the club flocked around him asking where they could get one. "Salisbury's, of course," said Ron proudly. "But I have to warn you, my dad said it was quite expensive," he added with a grin.

"Oh, that's no problem," responded one of the boys. "We do all our shopping at Salisbury's. I'm sure my father will want to pick one up for me."

These and similar comments rang out around the clubroom until the boys finally settled into some serious chess.

Only Eli Foxx seemed uninterested in the new watch. He always dressed more simply than the rest of the boys and seemed to shy away when the guys would discuss their newest purchases. This led some of the boys to guess that Eli's family's "lifestyle" wasn't quite up to that of the rest of them.

Nobody said anything about it until once, during winter break, when school was closed, the club decided to keep meeting in the member's homes. The first week the guys almost fell over each other offering to meet at "their place," convincing one another why their spacious home would make the most comfortable, enjoyable meeting place.

Soon all eyes turned to Eli who tried to avoid their looks. "So what do you say, Eli, can we meet at your place?" asked Ron.

Eli shuffled uncomfortably on his feet. "Er ... well ..." he stammered.

"Don't worry," said Ron, trying to sound assuring. "We don't care if your house is nice or not, we just need a place to meet."

Eli blushed, which made Ron immediately regret his comment. But his friend regained his composure and said, "Look, if there's no other place, I guess we can meet at my house."

He took out a scrap of paper and scribbled an address. He handed it to Ron. "This is where I live," he added quietly.

The next week, the boys were riding in the taxi that they had arranged to take them to the meeting. Ron handed the driver the paper that Eli had given him. "This is the address," he said.

Reading it the driver did a double take and shook his head. Ron looked at the boy next to him and whispered, "I hope Eli's neighborhood isn't too run down. I wouldn't want him to feel embarrassed."

Soon the taxi pulled up at what seemed to be a large park. They could see no house, only beautifully landscaped gardens and a huge gate. "Hey, where are we?" asked Ron. "This is the address you asked for fellas," answered the driver curtly as he drove off.

Confused, the boys walked toward the gate. Peering down what seemed like an endless driveway, they were surprised to spot through the trees a mansion unlike anything they had ever seen before. But they were even more shocked to see their "poor" friend Eli walking up to greet them waving his hand.

"Well, come on in guys," he said simply. "The chess boards are all set up."

Wide-eyed and speechless, the boys followed Eli down the driveway into a home that was even more magnificent on the inside than out. It looked like a palace - room after room with high ceilings, luxurious draperies and plush oriental carpeting.

As they started to play, Ron could no longer hold himself back. "Eli," he said. "Why didn't you tell us you lived in a place like this? It blows away any of our places by far!"

But their friend just shrugged. With his typical sheepish look, he said, "Why should I have? We're just friends who like to play chess together. Like you said, what does where we live have to do with anything?"

Ron swallowed hard and realized that, no matter who won the next chess match, when it came to modest behavior, Eli was the undisputed champ.

 


Ages 3-5

Q. How did the boys in the chess club feel when they got to Eli's house and saw how big and nice it was?
A. They were surprised because Eli never told them that he lived in such a fancy home. They thought he lived someplace that wasn't nice, but Eli just wasn't bragging; he was acting modestly.

Q. If your parents buy you a toy that most of your friends don't have, is it right to go over to your friends and brag about what you got?
A. No. It could hurt their feelings and make them sad that they don't have it too. It's better to just enjoy what you have and not brag about it.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why didn't Eli tell his friends about his big mansion?

Q. Does modesty only mean not bragging about your possessions, or are there other ways that a person could act modestly as well? If so, what are they?
A. Modesty means not trying to attract attention to ourselves. Therefore, modesty can uplift almost every part of our lives. We can act in a refined and dignified manner, rather than shouting and being wild, especially in public. We can choose to dress in nice, simple clothing rather than in the flashy latest style that gets everyone to look.

Q. Would you say that only someone who is wealthy could honestly say that "God has given me everything that I need"?
A. No. In fact the feeling of having "everything we need" has very little to do with our possessions. It is an attitude that we can learn to develop by remembering that God is constantly with us and is always making sure that we are being given what we truly need to grow into better people. This is the goal of life. Someone who can see things this way will always be happy.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. In your opinion, who is more likely to develop better friendships - a person who acts modestly or one who doesn't? Why?
A. Modest behavior causes those around us to respond to us as people, not merely to our possessions, looks, etc. When we choose to act modestly, we develop more meaningful, sincere connections with people.

Q. Do you think that modest behavior would cause a person to be held in higher esteem or lower esteem by his peers? Why?
A. We often find that the greatest treasures are kept securely behind lock and key, while things which aren't particularly valuable are quite easy to get at. A jewelry store may leave a rack of cheap costume jewelry out in the open, and display some pieces of moderate value in its front window, but you can be sure that its real "treasures," which are being saved for the most exclusive customers, are safely hidden in the back room.
     Likewise, when we act modestly with our possessions, speech, dress, etc., we are consciously choosing to keep some of the most valuable and private aspects of ourselves out of the "public eye." We are giving the message to those around us that we consider ourselves valuable and worthy of respect. This influences the people around us to hold us in higher esteem and to treat us that way as well.

 

Published: December 6, 2000

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