Did you know that you're an ambassador? We all are. Whether we know it or not, others often use our actions to form opinions of those we are associated with (and therefore represent) - such as our families, schools, and even the Jewish people as a whole. In this week's Torah portion, God reminds the Jewish people that as the nation that received the Torah, they will be viewed by the world as representatives of God and His teachings. He asks us to act in a manner that will bring about a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God's name) and not the opposite, Chillul Hashem (a desecration of God's name). Following God's law - loving our fellow man and acting with justice, for example - brings about a Kiddush Hashem. We can learn from this that when we act the right way that we are not only making a better name for ourselves but also for those we care about.
In our story, two boys, through their actions, influence someone's opinion even without them knowing it.
Mr. Seymour Goldsmith was a retired banker who had two loves -- kids and sports -- and he enjoyed using some of the money he had saved to help bring the two together. So it was that one beautiful late spring afternoon he decided to drive to the nearby Vinedale Academy and make a donation to their athletics program.
Not too long into his trip, the older man became a bit tired and decided to stop off at the local "Donut-Hole" to get a coffee and a pastry and refresh himself before going on.
He pulled his car into the parking lot of the fast food restaurant which was a favorite after-school hang-out for many of the kids from the area. As he stood waiting to order, Mr. Goldsmith heard some noise behind him.
Suddenly he felt himself being pushed from the back and his newspaper was knocked out of his hand. He turned around and was dismayed to see a lanky red-headed boy wearing a green Vinedale Academy tee-shirt making a disturbance. He was cutting in front of the people ahead of him, oblivious to the muffled protests around him.
Not wanting to make a scene, Mr. Goldsmith resignedly let him pass. He shook his head and started to bend down to pick up his newspaper. But before he could even start the painful process of bending his arthritic knees, he felt the newspaper being returned gently into his hand.
Behind it stood a neatly dressed blonde-haired boy with smiling blue eyes, wearing a Hartland Valley Day School baseball cap. "I believe this is yours, sir," he said with a winning smile, and disappeared back into the line before Mr. Goldsmith could even thank him. The banker was impressed with the boy's manners.
Finally making his way to the head of the line, he ordered his snack, drank his coffee, and continued along on his trip.
As he drove along, he couldn't help but recall the incident at the "Donut-Hole." It occurred to him how helpful the boy from Hartland had been as compared to the rude Vinedale student. At that moment, he saw a sign on the highway that read "Hartland Next Exit." Although he had been on his way to Vinedale to make a donation, Mr. Goldsmith changed his mind and signaled to pull off at the Hartland exit.
He found his way to the Hartland School and proceeded to give Mr. Haber, the pleasantly surprised principal, enough money to supply the whole school with new sports equipment and uniforms, and to make several badly needed repairs of the school's athletic facilities.
Later that spring, the Vinedale Academy Pirates baseball team found themselves facing the Hartland Day School Giants on the latter's home turf. The Giants looked like real pros with their gleaming new uniforms and top-notch equipment.
Bob, the lanky, red-headed Vinedale pitcher who created that ruckus in the Donut Hole, looked around with amazement at the beautiful newly refurbished and newly re-named Goldsmith Stadium. He couldn't help feeling a bit jealous when he compared it to his own school's worn out facilities. "Some places have all the luck," he said to himself.
He made his way out to the pitcher's mound and got ready to pitch to Freddy, the smiling, blonde-haired first batter on the Hartland team.
Q. Which boy impressed Mr. Goldsmith more?
A. Mr. Goldsmith was impressed with the boy from Hartland School because he saw how helpful and friendly the boy was as compared to the boy from Vinedale who was rude.
Q. When we behave nicely and kindly, what does it make people think about our families?
A. When people see how well we behave, they think that our families are also nice people.
Q. Why did the behavior of the two boys at the "Donut Hole" influence the way Mr. Goldsmith thought about their two schools?
A. While each of us is an individual, we are also all members of certain groups. For instance we may belong to a specific family, live in a certain neighborhood, go to a certain school, be members of a certain nationality and religion etc. Since the people we meet don't usually get to know all the members of any of our "groups," it is human nature for them to base their impressions of our "groups" by how we act. When Mr. Goldsmith saw how much better Freddy, the boy from Hartland school, behaved than Bob from Vinedale Academy, he formed the impression that somehow Hartland was doing a better job training its students. He translated this impression into action when he decided to donate to Hartland instead of Vinedale. By his kind behavior, Freddy caused something good to happen to all his friends.
Q. Do you think Bob, the boy from Vinedale, would have behaved differently at the "Donut Hole" if he had realized that his behavior was going to affect Mr. Goldsmith's impression of his entire school? Why?
A. Certainly, if Bob had realized that the man he so rudely bumped in line was on his way to help his baseball team get a new stadium and equipment, he would have been careful not to offend him. But besides this, had the boy considered the fact that his behavior was going to influence how people felt about not only him, but his family and friends as well, he might have acted differently for their sake.
Q. Can you think of some groups you belong to and that perhaps you represent by your behavior?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. When we find ourselves in challenging situations why does it help us to keep in mind that people will form opinions about our families and nationality based upon our behavior?
A. When a person faces a situation where it is difficult to do the right thing he may be tempted to give in. "After all," he tells himself, "I'm not hurting anyone but myself." However, when he realizes that his actions have the power to help or harm the reputation of the many innocent people he is associated with, he may gain courage to do what is right. Even people who want to do something destructive to themselves can be motivated to refrain when they realize they will be harming others. Likewise, the knowledge that we're doing something beneficial for many other people when we act properly can motivate us to reach even greater levels of personal growth and spiritual development.
Q. God teaches us that behavior of the Jewish people will influence the world's opinion of both Him and the Torah. How do you understand this?
A. The Torah that the Jewish people received was an awesome gift. It was meant to be a spiritual guidebook to help them develop themselves (and the entire world) into kinder, happier, wiser, and more ethical people. Even the people of the world who never studied the Torah realize what its purpose was meant to be. When someone observes a Jewish person acting in a good and elevated way, naturally they assume that God's gift of the Torah had a large part in helping the Jew behave this way. Throughout history every Jew has been an "ambassador" for the Torah in the eyes of the world.
Q. How could you act in a manner that will bring about a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God's name) in your own life?
A. Some ways are to try to be scrupulously honest and fair with those around us, to maintain a pleasant disposition even under pressure, and look for ways to say or do something good for whoever we encounter.