Don't Blame Others
It is tempting to blame others when we make a mistake. This is especially true if they had encouraged us to do wrong in the first place. But this week's Torah portion teaches us that ultimately each of us is responsible for our own actions. Adam, the first human ate fruit from the tree that God had specifically asked him not to. When God confronted him, Adam tried to blame Eve, his wife, who had convinced him to eat it. When God turned to Eve, she blamed the serpent who had tempted her. While God understood what had happened, He still considered each of them responsible for their own decisions. Every individual has the ability and responsibility to do what is right even when others try to tell us not to do so.
In our story, a boy learns that he is responsible for his own decisions.
"THE DRIVING LESSON"
Sam felt like he had been waiting for this day forever. He had finally gotten his drivers license. He felt almost like an astronaut behind the control panel of his dad's sleek blue sedan.
His father had generously offered to let Sam take a couple of his friends for a ride to do some errands across town. He had warned him to drive carefully and not to speed. But as soon as the boys had pulled out of the driveway and turned the corner, Sam's friends began pestering him to speed up.
"Oh, c'mon," egged Chuck. "You're driving like an old lady!"
"Yeah," echoed Jacob. "Hit the gas and let's see this thing fly!"
Sam felt torn. Even though he wanted to do what his father had told him, he felt tempted to show his friends that he really did know how to drive fast. He decided to give the car a little more gas.
The car sped up. Sam's friends squealed out encouragingly as the car went faster. Sam took their cue and really started to move. But as he slowed down at an intersection he noticed the blue flashing lights of a police car reflecting on his windshield.
"Oh no! Why did I listen to those guys?!" Sam thought, as the police car sounded its siren and a stern-looking officer inside signaled for the boy to pull over.
Sam felt like crying as the tall policeman wrote out a speeding ticket. "Son, I advise you to keep to the speed limit from now on," said the policeman as he handed the boy an official looking ticket. "I don't think you want to lose your driver's license."
Sam stuck to the speed limit on the ride home and his friends who had been so rowdy were now sitting as quietly as mice. Sam reluctantly told his father what had happened, but added in his defense, "It wasn't my fault. I was going slow, but my friends made me speed up!"
His dad shook his head and said with a sad smile, "No, Sam. Even if your friends encouraged you to speed, you made your own decision and you are the one who is responsible." He told Sam that he would give him another chance but first the boy would have to do chores to pay off the speeding ticket and be grounded for two weeks. Sam learned a big lesson that day: when it comes to doing the right thing, there is no passing the buck.
Q. How did Sam feel when his friends told him to go faster?
A. He felt tempted to do it even though he knew he shouldn't.
Q. Is it okay to do something wrong if people tell us we should?
A. No, we should do what we know is right.
Q. Do you think that Sam's friends were responsible for Sam's getting a speeding ticket?
A. By tempting him to speed, Sam's friends acted irresponsibly and caused their friend a lot of trouble. Nevertheless Sam himself was really responsible for what happened. In spite of being tempted to do wrong, each of us is able to choose what is right and we are responsible to do so.
Q. What could Sam do to avoid similar problems in the future?
A. For one thing, he could choose to befriend people who wouldn't tempt him to do things against his values. Also he could learn from what happened and not let himself be influenced by others in the future.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. The Torah teaches us not to place a stumbling block in front of the blind. How does this concept relate to the lesson of our story?
A. A fundamental spiritual principle is that each individual is responsible for his own actions. This is true of somebody who is in the position to do something right or wrong like the driver in our story. But this is also true of those who are in the position to influence him. By encouraging him to speed, Sam's friends placed a stumbling block in front of him. They set him up for a fall. While Sam was rightly held responsible for his decision to listen to them, nevertheless his friends acted wrongly by encouraging him to do so.
Q. Is "just following orders" ever an excuse to act unethically?
A. As hard as it is to resist temptation, it's much more so when the one telling us to do wrong is in a position of authority. By refusing "orders" we could be risking to lose a lot ourselves. Still one should try his best to remain true to his ethics and values and avoid doing wrong even when ordered to. Our goal should be to make our inner values and knowledge of what's right and wrong into our highest authority.