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Shmini(Leviticus 9-11)

Be Kind to Everyone


OVERVIEW

It's naturally to be nice to and help out others that are part of 'our crowd' - people who we think are similar to us. But the real test of kindness is if we can extend that same treatment to even those who are different from us. The portion this week names the various species of birds that are non-kosher and prohibited to eat. One of them, however, is a very kind bird whose very name in Hebrew, "Chasida," means kindness. Yet it is only kind to members of its own species; to others it is cruel. A lesson hinted from the fact that it is listed among the non-kosher birds is that we shouldn't imitate its negative trait, rather we should extend ourselves to be kind to everyone, whether they are like us, or not.

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STORY

In our story, a kind girl learns how to be even kinder.

"BIRDS OF A FEATHER"

      I love class trips. It means a day off from school and a chance to rest my brain. So who would have expected that in the middle of a nature park I would end up learning one of the biggest lessons of my life, and from a mosquito and a bird, no less?

      Before you get too confused, I'll explain. Our trip this year was to the Golden Lake nature reserve. Everyone was having a great time. It was a beautiful spring day, and between all the freshly blooming trees and flowers, and the many different types of animals and birds that our guide pointed out to us, we felt like we were in a natural wonder land. It wasn't at all crowded either, except for another class, our age, from a different school. So we basically had the whole park to ourselves.

      We had followed the trail a ways down to the glimmering lake, when suddenly I heard a buzzing sound in my ear. Ouch! I slapped myself a little too late to drive away the mosquito that just bit me. I looked around and saw that I was not alone. From the way all the kids were screeching and dancing around, it was clear that everyone was being bothered by the pesky mosquitoes that seemed to be everywhere.

      Our guide explained that because of the unusually warm weather we had been having, the mosquitoes had come out early this year.

      What a pain! We tried to ignore the bugs, but it was hard, and now the trip just wasn't the same. Suddenly I remembered that I had some mosquito repellant in my bag. I never use the stuff and had almost forgotten it was there, but now it would come in real handy. I rubbed it on myself and generously offered to share it with my classmates who all gratefully took me up on my offer.

      "Thanks so much, Laura," they said. "It's so nice of you to share!"

      Now, mosquito-free, we would be able to enjoy the trip once more. I felt like the hero who had saved the day.

      I was just closing up the bottle when I noticed a kid I didn't know walking my way. It was a girl from the other class. "Um, hi," she said. "I see that you have bug repellant. Do you think that maybe we could use some of it too?"

      I didn't know what to say. I hadn't minded to share it with my class - they were my friends, after all. But this was a different story. These kids were strangers, and besides, who knew if we might need the rest of it for ourselves later on? The kid actually had kind of a nerve asking, didn't she?

      "Gee, I'm sorry," I said, "I really don't have much left. I'm afraid I can't."

      The girl looked disappointed and walked away. I felt bad for her, but what could I do? A person has to look out for her own, I figured.

      We went a bit further down the trail when the guide suddenly seemed excited. She asked us all to be quiet and pointed at a group of big white birds on the lake behind some reeds. The mother bird was busy at work feeding little ones. It was so cute.

      My friend Ruth, the class brain, who always seemed to know everything, pointed out, "Those are Chasida birds. We learned about them in Torah class."

      How interesting. But wait a minute, I thought. Hadn't we learned they were one of the non-kosher birds which acted cruelly? But that mother bird, the way she was caring for her brood, looked pretty nice to me.

      I pointed this out to Ruth, but she wasn't fazed. "They may be nice to their own kind, but to other birds they're not. That's what makes them cruel," she explained.

      It was time to move on. As we started down the trail, I turned back and noticed the other class who were trailing behind us. They were still shooing away the mosquitoes that no longer bothered us. A lot of them were scratching, and I thought I noticed one of the girls crying. 'Too bad,' I thought, 'but it really isn't my problem, is it? After all, I had taken care of my friends...'

      All of the sudden it hit me. I was being just like that Chasida bird. I was only being nice to my own kind, but to those other kids I was being cruel. I froze in my tracks as I thought things over.

      "C'mon Laura, stop daydreaming, we're moving on," teased one of my friends.

      "Yeah, okay. I'm coming," I said. I was about to catch up to the class, but first there was something important I had to do.

      "Here, take it. There should be just enough left for all of you," I smiled, as I tossed the tube of mosquito repellant to the pleasantly surprised kid from the other class who had asked me for it earlier. Now I really felt like a hero as I ran to catch up with the class.

      "Hey where have you been?" asked Ruth, as she saw me pull into the line.

      "Oh," I smiled, "just doing something a little bird told me to do."

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QUESTIONS

Ages 3-5

Q. How did Laura feel at first about sharing her mosquito repellant with the other class?
A. She felt like it was enough that she share it with her own class, but when it came to strangers she didn't need to do so.

Q. How did she feel about it in the end?
A. She realized that kindness is something we should do for everybody, not just our own 'crowd.'


Ages 6-9

Q. Why didn't Laura mind sharing with her own class, yet with the other class she hesitated?
A. She believed in doing acts of kindness and wanted to help, but she felt that she need only go out of her way for people who were somehow connected to her, in this case her own class. This is in a way selfish, since it means only caring about those who are like ourselves. Real kindness should flow from a desire to give, and help out all who need us, whoever they are.

Q. How can we motivate ourselves to be kind to people who are not like us?
A. One good way is to try to think of ways they are like us, and focus on our similarities instead of our differences. When it comes down to it, every single person in the world is somehow related to each other, as we all have the same ancestors in Adam and Eve, and later, Noah. Many times we can think of closer connections, too. And more than anything, we are all brothers and sisters, as children of God.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Why is it considered cruel to be willing to help out only those we see as part of our own crowd? A. It shows that one's motivation is not genuinely altruistic. His giving in such a case is mixed with a selfish impulse, as he is working under an "us versus them" paradigm, and is selfishly only concerned with the 'us.' This attitude somehow justifies an indifferent attitude to those outside the circle we have drawn, and this is cruelty.

Q. Should we ever give preference to helping those who are somehow close to us, or should we always help out all equally?
A. We should be ready to help all those in need, and should do so when we are genuinely able. Yet, when our resources are truly limited, we can and should prioritize. For instance, the Torah teaches us that if we only have enough to help one person, we should help a relative over a stranger, someone from our city vs. someone in a different city, etc. Yet even here, there are exceptions. For instance, someone without a typical support system, such as a widow, or orphan - whether we know them or not - gets special priority. Through the Torah, God gives us specific guidelines how to make sure we are acting in the most fair and kindly way possible. It is well worth our while to know these guidelines, or consult with someone who does.


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Published: April 12, 2004

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