When something is genuinely important to us, we take it seriously and are careful to do whatever we can to make sure it turns out right. In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the various actions a person had to take as consequences for things they did wrong in fulfilling God's Torah. Included among these, was to offer compensation for unintentional mistakes, made through carelessness.
On the surface, this might seem unfair. Why should a person be held responsible for something that was an accident? But deep down, the person's carelessness revealed that he didn't really take God or His commandments as seriously as he should have, and that's why he's considered responsible.
We can learn from here the value of treating other people's legitimate concerns just as carefully and seriously as we would our own.
In our story, an episode of being careless teaches a girl how to care more.
Cindy rolled over in bed and looked at the clock.
"8:30? How did it get to be 8:30 already?!"
She sprung out of bed, dashed over to the radio and flipped the switch. The soft music, that would usually make her smile, brought panic to her still-tired eyes.
"Oh oh. I blew it. The show's over," she sighed. Cindy's friend Sarah, who was at sleep-away school out of town, had called her the night before and asked her to record a very important radio interview that she needed for one of her classes. The broadcast was scheduled for 8:00 in the morning, and it was only going to be played on their local station that Sarah couldn't receive from school.
Cindy readily agreed to help out. But somehow, she had overslept and missed the show completely.
At first, Cindy was afraid to tell Sarah what happened. But then she realized that Sarah really didn't have such reason to be upset - after all, it was an accident. She didn't mean to sleep through the radio interview.
But when the girls spoke on the phone, Cindy was surprised at her friend's lack of understanding. She accused Cindy of not caring about her needs, and the conversation ended in a rather unpleasant tone.
Later on that day, Cindy told her sister, Sharon, what happened. "I just don't know why she got so upset at me. What did I do wrong? Is it my fault I overslept?" she asked.
Sharon nodded sympathetically. "I'm sure she was just very disappointed about missing the interview. But, let me ask you something," she added. "Remember the time, last summer when you and your friends went on that early morning hiking trip to Bear Mountain?"
Cindy smiled, and nodded. "What a great hike that was. How could I forget?"
"Well, it seems to me that you got up a lot earlier than 8:00 for that one. How did you manage?"
Cindy shook her head. "Oh, that was no problem. Don't you remember? I set two alarms, one across the room, so I'd be sure to get up. And I also arranged the phone company's automatic wake-up service to call me, just for good measure."
"And I suppose you did all of these things to wake up on time this morning too," Sharon said.
Cindy blushed and shook her head. "I didn't do any of them," she admitted. "I was going to set the alarm before I went to bed, but I forgot."
The two sisters sat silently for a minute. Cindy realized that she didn't really take her friend's request seriously, certainly not as seriously as she had when she had wanted to get up for her own needs.
"Will you excuse me Sharon?" she asked. "I have to call Sarah, and apologize. I realize now that being careless means not caring enough."
Q. How did Cindy feel when her friend first got upset at her for oversleeping?
A. She felt that her friend wasn't being fair for blaming her, since she had overslept by accident.
Q. How did Cindy feel after she talked it over with her sister?
A. She realized that she hadn't really tried hard enough to wake up on time, and that she had been careless.
Q. Why didn't Cindy take the same steps to make sure that she would wake up on time which she did before her hiking trip?
A. Cindy really didn't want to miss her trip. Since it was important to her, she put in maximum effort to see that it worked out. Although she wanted to help her friend, her careless actions revealed that it really wasn't that important to her in the end. She would have taken it more seriously, had it been.
Q. How can we learn to treat other people's needs as seriously as our own?
A. One thing we could do is to imagine ourselves in the other person's place, and think about what we would be doing if it were our need. Then do that for the other person. We can take every care, and put in every effort that we would if we were doing it for ourselves.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. How can a person discover what his true priorities are?
A. The higher priority something is, the more it will motivate us to put our time and effort into it, no matter what. We may have certain ideas and ideals of what we hold to be important, but the way to really find out what really matters to us is to take a cold, hard look, at the bottom line. Where are we really devoting the bulk of our time and energy? If we are satisfied with what our priorities are, fine. If not we can now begin to discover ways to change them.
Q. Why is it the right thing to care about the needs of other people?
A. One of the main ways of becoming a good person is to learn to become less self-centered, and grow toward being more giving and 'other-centered', and ultimately, 'God centered'. A way to begin to do this is to really try to empathize with other people's concerns, and do our best to fulfill their reasonable requests. Once we get to the point where the other person's needs are as real to us as our own, we will have reached a highly developed spiritual level, and strengthened our connection to God.