Good For Others
It feels good to live up to our values and do what is right. But what should we do if the people around us aren't? Should we get involved and try to change them? In this week's Torah portion Noah faced this very dilemma. God informed him that He was about to bring a great flood to destroy the world that had become very corrupted and evil. God told Noah, who was literally the only good and honest man left in the world, that only he and his family would survive to start the world anew. Although Noah was sad and hoped that everyone else would change their ways and also be saved, he made the mistake of not doing enough to influence them to change. We learn from here that sometimes just being good ourselves isn't good enough.
In our story a girl learns the importance of helping others to do the right thing.
Amy Landers ducked as a chalkboard eraser went whizzing past her head. "They're going to get in trouble," thought Amy, who found it hard to concentrate on her assignment amidst the sound of banging furniture, screaming laughter and general mayhem that reigned in Homeroom 202.
Mrs. Hansen, the regular teacher, was out with the flu and Ms. Jones, the young substitute, had stepped out of the classroom for a few moments to photocopy some worksheets. That's when the whole class, except for Amy, seized the opportunity and went wild.
Suddenly the classroom door swung open. Ms. Jones nearly dropped her stack of copies at the scene which greeted her. "OK. Everyone, and I mean everyone stays after school today! None of you should even think about going home before 3:30!" The class went silent and the rest of the lesson went normally until the bell rang, sending them to lunch break. Amy stayed behind and slowly approached the teacher, who was still trying to organize the mess that the kids had made of her desk.
Amy cleared her throat. "Er, Ms. Jones..." The teacher looked up. "Ms. Jones, may I be excused from staying after school? I didn't do anything wrong. I just quietly did my schoolwork the whole time you were out of the classroom."
The teacher looked at her for a moment and then said, "Amy, I can see from the way you behave that you are a good girl, and I believe you are telling me the truth."
Amy sighed with relief.
"But..." added the teacher, "let me ask you something. Did you do anything to try to stop the others when they went wild?"
"Did you tell them that what they were doing was wrong? You must have realized that they would be punished."
Amy blushed. "Um, no I didn't do anything," she admitted. "I guess I was just glad that it wasn't me."
"Amy, it really wasn't enough. If you had spoken up maybe they would have stopped, and wouldn't be in trouble now. At least you could have tried. I'm sorry Amy, but if you knew better but didn't try to stop them then you are also at fault to some degree, and you'll also have to stay after school."
Amy slowly walked off to join her friends for lunch. She understood that from now on she would have to try harder to look out for everyone's good.
Q. How did Amy feel when she saw her classmates misbehaving?
A. She felt happy that she wasn't acting like that.
Q. How would it have been better for her to feel?
A. She should have felt bad about how they were acting and tried to get them to stop.
Q. What did Ms. Jones hope to teach Amy by making her stay after school?
A. Amy mistakenly thought that since she didn't misbehave like the rest of the class, that she was totally innocent. The teacher wanted her to realize that a person is responsible to try to influence the people around her to act with proper values. If she doesn't, then she is also in a sense responsible for what happens.
Q. Suppose that Amy had determined that her classmates weren't going to listen to her. Should she still have spoken up? Why or why not?
A. Although she might not have been able to change the situation, still she might have accomplished something worthwhile. Even if one or two people refrained from misbehaving it would have made a difference. And perhaps next time the others would have thought twice before acting that way. A person who speaks up for what's right can really make an impact on other people's lives.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why should it matter to me what others do as long as I'm doing the right thing?
A. The Torah wants to develop into more caring and loving people, and for that reason alone we will benefit by getting involved to help others to grow. But on a deeper level all of humanity is spiritually interconnected. It is as if we are one body. Just like a healthy hand can't go on living happily while the other hand is wounded, so too we all suffer when others are acting destructively. Humanity will be uplifted greatly once we all begin to feel a sense of responsibility for each other.
Q. What do you think might be some effective ways to influence others to improve?
A. One of the most important things is to act out of genuine respect. Just because I may be behaving better than someone else doesn't make me a more valuable person. We should also correct others in a pleasant and positive manner, which is also much more effective.