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It's important to say what we mean, but even more important to mean what we say. In this week's portion we learn about the Holy Ark that held the Ten Commandments. It was not only covered with gold on the outside, but inside as well. Our sages teach that we can learn a important lesson from this: try to make sure that our insides - the way we act and feel - are just as good and precious as our outsides - the way we speak and present ourselves to others.
In our story we meet a girl who gets a crash course in the importance of being consistent inside and out.
Debby Gold watched with interest as her Aunt Sarah got dressed up to go to the wedding. Soon she would be out and on her way, leaving her niece to babysit.
One of her aunt's closest friends was getting married, so she made sure to dress her finest. That's why Debby was surprised at her aunt's choice of jewelry. "Aunt Sarah, how come you're wearing that pin when the other one I've seen you wear is so much fancier and nicer?"
Her aunt looked up with a smile and patiently explained, "Even though the other piece may look nicer, it's really a much cheaper piece of jewelry. You see, it's only gold plated on the outside, but inside it's just plain and hollow. The one I chose for this important occasion is real, solid gold, through and through."
Aunt Sarah glanced at her watch. "It's getting late and I'd better get going. Debby, thank you so much for babysitting. I hope you can handle it ... the kids need a lot of attention. The baby is fast asleep upstairs. Remember to give her a bottle if she wakes up. And Joey can have a snack if he gets hungry, but please be sure to get it for him, and don't let him walk in the kitchen by himself - there are a lot of things in there that can break."
"Don't worry about a thing," Debby reassured her. "I'm very responsible and I'm going to do everything just like you asked me to. When I babysit, I give the kids 100% of my attention. Especially my cute cousins!"
Her aunt walked out the door relieved and grateful that she had such a loving and responsible niece.
Not long after Aunt Sarah left, the telephone rang. Debby picked it up. It was her friend, Becky, who got the number from Debby earlier in the day. The girls fell right into one of their marathon conversations, where they said almost everything about almost nothing. After an hour of non-stop talking, Debby, who had settled herself comfortably on the couch, began to hear crying coming from the baby's room.
Aw, I'm sure she'll go right back to sleep in just a minute, she told herself, and kept on talking to Becky. But the baby didn't go back to sleep. In fact her wailing grew so loud that Becky could even hear it on the other end of the line. "Hey, is everything okay there? I hear a baby crying."
Debby, who had tuned out the sound, answered calmly, "Oh, it's nothing. All babies cry. If she doesn't go back to sleep in a minute I'll get her a bottle. So tell me again, what color shoes did you wear...?"
Ten minutes later Debby felt a tug on her sleeve. Huh? It was Joey. She had practically forgotten all about him. "Just a second Becky. Yeah, what is it Joey?" she asked impatiently.
"You're hungry? Didn't you eat supper just a little while ago?"
"Yeah, but that was a long time ago. Now I'm hungry."
Debby sighed and looked over at the kitchen, which seemed a mile away from her cozy couch. "Look Joey, if you're really hungry, go help yourself to a snack."
"My mommy doesn't let me."
"Your mommy doesn't let you? Well, maybe do it yourself just this one time. I won't tell her if you don't, okay?"
Joey broke out in a grin and dashed into the kitchen, while Debby slipped back into her deep discussion with her friend about the season's latest fashions. But she was soon brought back to earth by three sounds all happening at once. A new round of the baby's screaming which was now reaching a fever pitch, a loud crash coming from the kitchen, and perhaps worst of all, the sound of the front door being unlocked!
She's home already!? Debby thought to herself in a panic.
Her aunt walked in the door and gasped as she took in the whole scene. Debby turned bright red and quickly hung up the phone. Aunt Sarah ran into the kitchen where little Joey sat smiling and eating a big piece of cake, with the cake platter smashed to pieces on the ground.
"Oh Debby, how could you let all this happen?!"
The girl was silent, her head down. Her aunt tried to speak calmly. "Debby, I trusted you. You told me how responsible you are, and yet you behaved so differently..."
Debby looked up at her aunt to apologize, and her eye caught the solid gold pin she was wearing. "I guess I was just like that other, cheap piece of jewelry, huh? My words were gold on the outside, but inside just hollow promises."
Her aunt nodded her head, and though she forgave her, it was a long time before she asked her to babysit again. Debby learned a big lesson that night: that something is valuable only if it's genuine through and through.
Q. At first, how did Aunt Sarah feel about Debby as a babysitter?
A. She heard Debby's sweet promises and felt glad she had found such a good, responsible baby-sitter.
Q. How did she feel when she came home?
A. She felt disappointed when she saw that Debby's words were just empty promises, and she really wasn't the same inside as she made herself seem.
Q. What do you think made Debby act the way she did?
A. She fell into the trap of saying what she thought the other person wanted to hear. It seems easier, and avoids conflicts. But in the long run it causes many more problems than it solves. Better to stick to the truth, even if it hurts.
Q. What do you thing Debby's aunt's reaction would have been to the chaotic scene when she got home had Debby never claimed to be as responsible as she did?
A. While she certainly wouldn't be happy, she would have been much less hurt and upset. Debby's attitude of speaking in one way and acting the opposite added insult to injury, and made her behavior seem uncaring, and harder to forgive.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is it ever justified to say things we really don't feel inside?
A. There are rare times when peace takes precedence over truth, and we may have to stretch the truth a bit to avoiding hurting people's feelings, etc. However, it is never justified to misrepresent ourselves just because it's easier or in order to get ahead.
Q. What is the benefit of being consistent inside and out?
A. If a person's inner self and outer mask he shows to the world are totally different, he is never going to be at peace. Even if nobody else knows, he will always feel as if he's living a lie. Worse, he may even come to believe his own act, and lose touch with his true self. The mark of spiritual development is inner and outer consistency.