Trouble and Troublemakers
Even though we may know what is right and wrong, that doesn't mean that everybody we meet also does. There may be times that we will encounter people who are behaving in ways that we know aren't right. Maybe they will even invite us to join them, and it might seem interesting or exciting to try something different. In such cases, what should we do? Would it really be so bad just to see what's going on?
This week's Torah portion gives us some clear advice: Keep away from trouble - it isn't worth it. Referring to those who try to lead others to act in self-destructive ways, God states "don't do what he says, don't even listen to him." A wise person is secure enough in his own values to keep away from trouble and troublemakers.
In our story a boy stops himself from joining up with trouble.
"BLOWING IN THE WIND"
11:00 A.M. The recess bell rang sending waves of kids streaming out of the Truman School classrooms into the spacious schoolyard.
Today's recess was a special bonus, since it had rained all morning and it looked like a boring indoor recess - but then everything turned sunny.
Jay stretched and drank in the crisp fresh air. He wasn't sure how to spend his morning break. Usually he spent this time with his best friends Larry and Bill, but today Bill was home sick with the flu and Larry didn't seem to be anywhere around. Jay gave a once over to the busy playground and decided to head over to the basketball courts to go shoot some hoops with a few guys from his class.
He had hardly taken two steps when a big gust of wind swept Jay's brand new Dodgers' cap off his head and started blowing it across the schoolyard. "I just hope it doesn't land in a puddle," Jay panicked as he began to chase after it.
But the cap seemed to take on a life of its own until it finally came to rest way out in a deserted area of the schoolyard against the chain-link fence by the utility building.
Jay, out of breath from his chase, caught up to the cap and bent down to pick it up. He was about to leave when he heard some strange sounds coming from behind the building. It sounded like music and a lot of laughing. Jay's instincts told him to get away from the area, which was officially off-limits to students. But his curiosity got the best of him and he decided to investigate.
He edged his way through the narrow gap between the fence and the wall of the building. Reaching the end, he peeked around the corner and was surprised to see a whole group of kids, mostly older, hanging out behind the building.
"They're not supposed to be here," thought Jay as he watched the kids laughing wildly and jokingly pushing each other around. He thought he smelled cigarette smoke.
He stood transfixed taking in the scene, when some of the kids noticed him. "Hey redhead, c'mon over and join us!" called out a tall skinny boy. "Yeah, don't worry, we won't bite you," added another.
Soon, however, the kids became distracted by their own antics and left Jay to his thoughts.
At first Jay thought "Why not? It'll be a new experience, and after all I don't have anything better to do right now." He took a step forward but stopped himself in his tracks. "What am I doing?" he thought. "These guys aren't for me. They're making trouble and hanging out doing things that are wrong. And they want me to join in the trouble. No way!"
He quickly turned on his heels and walked briskly back to the main schoolyard. Suddenly he saw a familiar face. It was his friend Larry, holding a basketball! "Hey, where have you been?" Larry asked. "I've been looking for you all over!" he added with his winning smile.
Jay smiled back, happy to see his friend and to be back in familiar territory. "I was, er ... blowing in the wind for a while," he said cryptically. "But now I'm back down to Earth. Let's play some ball!"
Q. How did Jay feel when the troublemakers asked him to come and join them?
A. He felt that what they were doing was wrong, but he also felt curious and was tempted to join them. In the end, he decided to keep away from them and was happy that he did.
Q. Is it okay to hang around with a group of friends who are doing bad things?
A. No. We should try to stay with kids who are acting properly instead.
Q. Do you think there is anything wrong with spending time with or being part of a group of people who are behaving wrongly as long as you, yourself, don't do anything wrong? Why or why not?
A. You may have good values and may not intend to act wrongly. But when you find yourself around others who are doing something wrong, you are likely to be influenced by them. You could start to feel that what they are doing really isn't so bad. You may become curious just to try it out. For all of these reasons, it is a good idea to keep your distance from people who are doing things that you feel are wrong.
Q. Do you think that the kids who were acting wildly were really having a good time?
A. It might have looked that way. After all, they were laughing and joking around. But really, almost always, people who make trouble are very unhappy inside. They don't feel good about themselves, and they act wildly to try to hide those feelings. We can feel sorry for them, but we shouldn't let ourselves be fooled into thinking that they are really happy people.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Some people claim that they are willing to "try anything once" and justify doing things that go against their values for the sake of the experience. Does this attitude seem reasonable to you? Why or why not?
A. Wanting to broaden our horizons and try out new things can be healthy and can help us grow. However, when this desire comes into conflict with our basic values of what's right and wrong, it can become destructive. Deep down each of us is essentially a soul, a spiritual being. The values that we have, and the decisions we make based on these values, either draw us closer to, or distance us, from our spiritual essence.
Q. Our sages teach us that, "Unfortunate is the wrongdoer and unfortunate is his neighbor." How do you understand this statement?
A. All of humanity is interconnected. Every act, either constructive or destructive, influences the whole world. It is almost impossible not to be influenced by the values of the people close to us -- our families, friends, and neighbors. When we are surrounded by others with positive values, we will find ourselves growing. When we spend time with those with negative values, we will find our own values slipping. Therefore, we should make every reasonable effort to surround ourselves with people whose values we respect, and keep our distance from those whose values we don't.