Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
To Be Honest
Honesty may be the best policy, but sometimes it's hard to be completely straight all the time. A person can feel tempted to "bend the rules" a bit, especially when a lot is on the line. In this week's Torah portion, God reminds us how important it is to be perfectly honest: "a perfect and honest weight ... and measure you shall have." Not only shouldn't a merchant cheat by selling something on a bad scale, he shouldn't even own one so that he will never be tempted to use it. The Torah teaches us that behaving honestly is one of the most crucial ways to improve society and to improve ourselves.
In our story, a girl struggles to remain honest.
"BENT OUT OF SHAPE"
"Nancy! Nancy!" The sound of her name being called snapped Nancy Abraham out of her daydream. She looked up at Mrs. Jackson, the teacher, who had been trying to get her attention for a while. The woman was waving a sheet of paper in her hand. "Nancy, would you mind bringing the worksheet to the resource room and making 20 copies for the class?" she asked.
Nancy smiled. Her initial embarrassment at being caught dreaming was overcome by relief -- she wasn't being called on to answer a math problem.
Nancy stood up, took the sheet of paper from the teacher's hand, and flew out of the classroom. She felt like a bird that had been let out of a cage. Even though she was generally a good student, this geometry class left her, as she liked to put it, "all bent out of shape."
And although she would joke about it, Nancy knew in the back of her mind that with final exams approaching, she was in real danger of failing the class.
Paper in hand, Nancy wound her way through the Oakwood Day School corridors until she reached the small, deserted resource room located in an out-of-the-way corner of the building.
She turned on the copy machine and began to insert the worksheet, but it wouldn't go in. "Something's stuck in there," Nancy thought as she opened the lid. Sure enough, a piece of paper was jammed in the machine's feeder tube.
Nancy tugged it out and was about to fling it into the nearby trash bin. But before she did, she flashed the paper a curious glance and turned white -- it was a copy of the final exam for geometry! Apparently the teacher had been making copies earlier in the day and one of them had gotten stuck in the machine.
Nancy felt her heart pounding as she held on to the precious sheet. She looked around to make sure no one was looking and quickly folded the test and shoved it into her pocket.
"Wow, what a break," she thought to herself. "Now all I have to do is look up a few answers and I'll ace the final!"
She quickly made copies of the worksheets and turned to head back to the classroom, but her feet wouldn't move.
"I can't do this," she told herself. "It's cheating!" But immediately a counter-argument seemed to pop into her head, "Is it better to fail?" "No, but it's wrong," she answered. "Just do it this one time," the voice inside her argued, "and you'll save yourself so much hassle. It's not such a big deal..."
Nancy started to walk out of the room, but then stopped short. "Better a failure than a cheat!" she told herself finally, and she whipped the test out of her pocket, tore it into shreds, and stuffed it into the wastebasket.
She breathed a sigh of relief and marched happily back to the classroom. She handed the copies to the teacher.
"Thank you, Nancy." Mrs. Jackson smiled. Noticing that Nancy was perspiring the teacher quipped, "Are you okay? You look like you've been through the war."
Nancy smiled as she thought of the "honesty-war" she had just fought and won, "Mrs. Jackson doesn't know how right she is!"
Nancy tried hard to pay attention to the rest of the lesson. Maybe, she thought, if she worked hard she would pass the course after all -- the honest way.
Q. How did Nancy feel when she first found the test in the copy machine?
A. She was tempted to take it and cheat to get a good grade.
Q. How did she feel after she tore it up and up and threw it away?
A. She felt great that she had done the honest thing and had decided not to cheat.
Q. If we could be 100% certain that we would never get caught, would it then be acceptable to cheat or do something dishonest? Why or why not?
A. While it might be more tempting, it still wouldn't be right. Honesty is a basic value that we should try to live by all the time. Besides, God sees everything that we do, and since He wants us to learn to be honest, He will see to it that eventually we will have to face up to our choices. People who act honestly even when they feel sure they could "get away with it," make themselves into better people, and bring a lot of spiritual light into the world.
Q. Besides not cheating in school, what are some other ways that we can behave honestly?
A. We can give back change if we get too much from a store. We cannot make "free" calls on a broken pay phone. We can be careful only to take as many ketchup packets or sugar packets from a fast-food restaurant as we actually need for our meal. If we find something on the ground, we can sincerely try to return it to its rightful owner.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why should we behave honestly?
A. There can be many motivations. It's illegal not to... we'll look bad if we're caught ... etc. Yet if we base our commitment to behave honestly only on the fact that it is illegal or socially unacceptable to be dishonest, then we might find our resolve weaken in a situation when we are unlikely to be caught or when society changes its standards. The best reason to be honest is that honesty is a Torah value. Through honest behavior, we refine our character and become better, more spiritual human beings. This awareness alone can motivate us to behave honestly in all situations.
Q. Do you think that a person can really "get ahead" by cheating? Why or why not?
A. Perhaps in the short-run it could appear that way. For instance, if instead of studying, Nancy had cheated and gotten a good grade in geometry she might have looked good for that moment. But once she moved up to a more advanced class, her lack of knowledge would likely backfire and cause her problems. In a deeper sense, when we realize that it is God who allows us to succeed or not, it is clear that we will only achieve lasting success by behaving honestly, the way God wants us to.