Family Parsha Parshat Vayeshev: False Accusations
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Vayeshev(Genesis 37-40)

False Accusations


It is inevitable that there will be misunderstandings in life. For instance, there may be times that we are wrongly accused of doing something that we didn't. There may be times when we discover that we have unjustly accused others. At times like these we may become defensive and feel like saying and doing things we may later wish we hadn't.

Even if we can't prevent these awkward situations, we can train ourselves to handle them in the best way possible. In this week's Torah portion, Judah wrongly accuses his daughter-in-law, Tamar, of not behaving properly. But Tamar kept her cool and avoided answering him back sharply and publicly embarrassing him even though she could have proved him wrong. For his part, Judah was able to take her subtle hint and bravely admit in front of everyone that he had made a mistake and that Tamar really hadn't done anything wrong. We learn from her how spiritually elevated people are able to make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

 


In our story, a girl and her teacher keep their cool as they handle an awkward situation.

"FANCY FOOTWORK"

Allison just couldn't stop looking at her beautiful new bracelet. Actually it was only new for her. Mrs. Harrow, her dance teacher, had told her that she had received it as a gift many years ago, when she was a girl, from her dance teacher. The bracelet was quite unique, studded with delicate silver and gold ballerina charms. Allison felt she would always treasure it. The teacher had given it to her after the last dance recital, together with a charming little note that read: "To my dear Allison. The beauty of your dancing brought tears to my eyes. May my gift to you help both of us remember this magic moment."

But now the moment was anything but magic as Mrs. Harrow, a nice lady who had grown quite forgetful in her later years, was fretfully pacing up and down the rehearsal hall searching every nook and cranny as her students look on, confused.

"It's gone!" she cried. "My precious bracelet has disappeared!"

Allison squirmed in her seat. She realized that her teacher had forgotten that she had given her the bracelet as a gift and was now frantically searching for the very bracelet ... that was now dangling on Allison's wrist. The moments seemed to drag on as Allison tried to conceal the bracelet from Mrs. Harrow's prying eyes. "Boy do I wish these ballet outfits had pockets!" thought the girl. But suddenly her thoughts were interrupted.

"Thief!" gasped Mrs. Harrow, with her eyes riveted on the hapless girl. "You stole my bracelet. Don't deny it!"

With all eyes suddenly on her, Allison didn't know what to do. Her first impulse was to yell back at the woman and remind her what really happened. "How could she accuse me of stealing something she gave me herself!" But then Allison held herself back. "This is really embarrassing already," she thought. "Why should I do something to embarrass the teacher and make things even worse?"

Suddenly Allison got an idea. She quickly grabbed her purse that was on the shelf above where the girls were sitting. She opened it and pulled out the note her teacher had written her and discreetly placed it in the woman's hand. "Surely she'll remember when she sees the note," she thought. "I'll leave it up to her. If she wants to own up to her mistake, fine. But I'm not going to say anything to embarrass her, even if I have to leave the class in shame."

Allison held her breath. As the teacher read the note, she turned white. "My dear girl," she gasped, taking Allison's hand. "I'm so sorry for accusing you!" The woman turned to the rest of the class. "Allison is perfectly innocent. I'm the one who was wrong," she boldly admitted. The student and teacher embraced, surrounded by the class who had newfound respect for both of them.

 


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Allison feel when Mrs. Harrow first accused her?
A. She felt embarrassed and wanted to strike back.

Q. How about after the teacher had admitted she was wrong?
A. Allison felt relieved and glad that she had done the right thing and not embarrassed her teacher.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why did the class feel respect for Allison and Mrs. Harrow in the end?
A. The girls realized what had happened and saw that both their classmate and the teacher had acted bravely and honorably. Allison was strong enough not to rudely embarrass the teacher even though she could have and Mrs. Harrow was brave enough to admit when she was wrong. They had both done the right thing, and that deserved respect.

Q. What do you think is the secret to behaving honorably even in awkward, uncomfortable situations?
A. One thing is to keep ourselves in control and not lose our heads. We can remind ourselves that the values we feel important apply even when the going gets tough. Allison did that when she stopped herself from striking back and embarrassing her teacher.

Q. Why do you think it is so important not to embarrass another person? Have you ever been embarrassed in public? How did it feel?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Is there anything positive about uncomfortable situations?
A. It might not seem that way at first, but actually there is a great deal to be gained. When things are going smoothly it is usually no great challenge to behave properly. But when things get hot we find ourselves tempted to lose our cool and that often means letting our values fly out the window. But ... if we can, even then, hold ourselves back and still do the right thing, we have just done the spiritual equivalent to running a four-minute mile. Difficult situations are the fuel that can build us into great people.

Q. Our sages teach that 'kis' (Hebrew terminology for a person's money dealings), 'ka'as' (Hebrew terminology for the way he behaves when he's angry), and 'kos' (Hebrew terminology for how he acts if he drinks alcohol) reveal a person's true nature. Do you agree? Why do you think this is so?
A. It may sound like a strange grouping. But one thing these three situations have in common is that they put a person under a bit of pressure and therefore tend to catch him off guard, drawing him out of his "mask" of routine behavior. The values that he exhibits, or fails to, at these times generally reveal what the person is really about.

Q. Why do you think it is so important not to embarrass another person? Have you ever been embarrassed in public? How did it feel?

 

Published: December 1, 2001

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