People are not always the same on the inside as they appear on the outside. The image that someone projects doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. In this week's Torah portion we learn about our forefather Jacob's twin brother, Esau. On the outside, Esau seemed like a really nice guy. He would always speak respectfully to his parents and gave everyone the impression that he only wanted to do good for them. But inside, Esau was quite different. He really only cared about himself and didn't care who got hurt or even killed in order to get what he wanted. Because of his smooth talk he had almost everyone fooled, but in the end his true character was revealed. We can learn from this to try to make sure that our own values are not only skin deep, and also to realize we can't always judge others based on first impressions.
In our story, a boy learns that first impressions don't always tell the whole story.
The scenery was breathtaking as the Zimmer's minivan wove its way around the narrow country roads on the way to Camp Katamon. Alan Zimmer squirmed excitedly in the back seat, a bit nervous about the pre-season camp interview he was about to have in order to decide if he wanted to go there that summer.
He felt relieved when all the camp staff members, with broad smiles on their faces, came out to personally greet them. They were super-friendly and made Alan feel great. Alan especially liked Ritchie the assistant counselor.
After the interview Ritchie walked with the family back out to the car. He smiled at Alan's parents and said, "I hope you decide to send him here because I'm sure that Alan and I are going to be best buddies this summer."
The whole ride home Alan couldn't stop talking about how much he wanted to go to Camp Katamon. That evening his parents discussed it and decided that even though it was quite expensive, it was worth it to send Alan to such a friendly camp.
Summer arrived and Alan's camp experience didn't exactly work out as he had hoped. All those friendly-looking staff members paid him hardly any attention. Most disappointing of all was Ritchie. Even though they slept in the same bunkhouse, Ritchie hadn't talked to Alan even once the whole summer, unless you wanted to count the time when he told Alan to be quiet. That was when Alan was moaning in bed because he was sick with a fever, and Ritchie was listening to his CD's for a change.
Alan tried to make the best of the long summer. He made a couple of nice friends, but he was looking forward to leaving and going home. When his dad came to pick him up on the last day of camp the boy was waiting by the front office with his bags packed.
They loaded up the van and were about to get in and drive off when Alan felt an unfamiliar arm around his shoulder. He looked up and was surprised to see Ritchie wearing the same big smile that he had seen at the pre-season interview. "It was a great summer with you, Al!" smiled the assistant counselor. "Let's keep in touch over the winter, pal," he beamed.
While Alan stared at the counselor, wondering to himself if this was the same Ritchie who had ignored him the whole summer, Alan's dad gave Ritchie a generous tip as a token of his appreciation. As the car pulled out, Alan noticed Ritchie with his arm around another boy. He realized that he had acted so nice only in order to get a tip.
"You know, Dad," Alan said, "I learned this summer that some people put on an act. They aren't at all who they pretend to be. And I learned that I can be happy just being me."
Q. How did Alan feel when Ritchie ignored him at camp after promising to be his friend?
A. He felt disappointed because Ritchie didn't act friendly like he had at the interview.
Q. How do you feel when someone says one thing and then does something else?
Q. Why do you think that Ritchie was nice to Alan only when he first came to visit the camp and then again when he was leaving?
A. Ritchie wasn't sincerely interested in befriending Alan. He was only putting on a front when it suited him. During the interview he wanted to convince Alan's parents to send him to the camp. At the end he wanted to get a tip. So during these times he put on an act and behaved really friendly. The rest of the summer Ritchie had nothing to gain for himself by paying attention to Alan so he didn't bother pretending.
Q. Was Alan naive for believing that Ritchie was really going to be nice to him after the first meeting?
A. No. Alan wanted to give the counselor the benefit of the doubt. Ritchie had acted friendly at first and Alan had no reason to think he wouldn't continue to do so. However Alan could use this experience to learn in the future not to rely on first impressions too much and try to understand what might be motivating someone to speak and act the way they are.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages describe as a spiritual goal to 'make one's mouth and heart as one.' What does this mean, and how can we achieve this?
A. This is a process of learning to be our genuine selves and to express ourselves sincerely, saying what we really mean. This internal consistency will help us to feel good about ourselves and draw the good feelings of others who sense that we're being straight with them.
Q. What do you think would motivate someone to act insincerely?
A. There could be several reasons. In the story, Ritchie had a specific goal in mind, impressing Alan and his parents so he would come to the camp and give him a nice tip. He realized that he would have to at least put on a good front in order to do that. More generally, while many people feel it's very important to be perceived as good people, they may not be willing to put in the effort to become less self-centered, which being truly good requires. So they opt to put on a good face, while secretly going after their own agenda. We can use this feeling as a tool for growth. We can imagine the good traits that we want people to see in us, and then do what we can to truly acquire them.