Let's Play Fair
Our desire to get ahead and reach our goals can tempt us to act in a less than upright manner. Yet the Torah assures us that only by playing fair will we ever succeed in the long run. This week's portion teaches, "...do what is good and fair in God's eyes, so that it will be good for you" (Deut. 6:18). Since ultimately it is only God who decides whether we will succeed or not, doesn't it make sense to do things in the good and fair way that He wants us to do?
In our story, a kid has to decide whether playing fair is worth the price.
Debby felt really weird seeing her smiling face plastered up over every corner of the school. When her friends first tried to get her to run for school president, Debby Furst didn't really take them seriously. Sure, she was a popular kid and all, but that didn't mean hundreds of people would want to vote for her to be their leader. But now it seemed like it might really be happening.
She did really well in the first round of elections, and was now running in the final showdown against just one other finalist named Wendy. The long, exhausting election campaign was almost over. With just one day left, she and Wendy were running neck and neck.
Debby sat at the desk of her impromptu 'campaign headquarters' (the small, empty offices that the school had supplied to each of the finalists), absentmindedly pondering the picture on one of her campaign posters, and its slogan: NICE GUYS FINISH -'FURST'! She wondered if she'd still be smiling like that tomorrow.
Debby was lost in her thoughts when Judy and Val, her two best friends and campaign managers, came bursting in. Val was waving a piece of paper in her hand and they looked really upset.
"Debby this is awful! It's terrible!" said Val almost crying.
"We have to fight fire with fire!" Judy added in a voice so angry it was scary.
"Hold it! Calm down. What's going on?" Debby asked.
"What's going on?! I'll tell you what's going on. That rotten Wendy is about to drag you through the mud in front of the whole school!"
The girls went on the explain how they had gone into the school office to photocopy Debby's latest speech and found in the copying machine a last-minute campaign poster her opponent must have forgotten there. Debby took one look at the poster and was shocked. It was the meanest, most viciously negative thing she had ever seen. It was full of lies about her, and even had an ugly caricature of her drawn on the bottom!
Debby's face grew redder and redder. She knew Wendy really wanted to win - so did she - but this was too much.
"See what we mean? They made a hundred copies of this thing and plan to put it up everywhere right before the vote, so you won't even have a chance to respond!" Judy said.
"But don't worry..." Judy continued, "I've been doing a little 'creative writing' of my own. Take a look at this." With a grin, Judy pulled out another poster from a manila folder. It was just as mean, but this time aimed against her opponent. "It's our only chance, Debby. We'll print it up quickly, and maybe the two posters will cancel each other out. If not, the kids will believe all of Wendy's lies, and we'll get creamed at the ballot box."
Debby looked over the poster. Part of her thought it was horrible, but part of her felt like she had no choice, that Judy was right, and it was really her only chance.
"Just give me the okay and we're on our way," Judy prompted.
Debby was about to go for it, then she had a second thought. Had this been why she agreed to run for president - to slander and hurt people? And what about her campaign slogan about nice guys finishing first? She had learned in her Torah class that God wanted us to be fair and good, and would help us when we were. She couldn't believe that putting out nasty posters about people was what God wanted her to do. She didn't quite know how, but she trusted that if she was meant to be school president, it would happen without her having to resort to dirty tricks.
"Forget it. I'm not doing it," Debby stated, shaking her head.
"But why not?" Judy protested. "Wendy started it, and if you don't fight back, you can forget about this election."
Debby waved her off. "I don't care. I want to win, but if it means doing it this way, it's just not worth it."
The election took place as scheduled, and Debby paced the floor of her office waiting for the results to come in. She didn't have very high hopes of winning now that everyone read such bad things about her on Wendy's awful posters. Soon it would be all over, and she could forget about the whole thing...
Suddenly the door burst open. It was Judy and Val, but this time they were all smiles. "Debby! The principal just finished counting all the votes and you WON! It's a landslide. You got almost twice as many votes as Wendy!!"
Debby couldn't believe it. "But how ... wasn't the election neck and neck? And what about her poster?"
"Her poster," answered Val, "is what won the election ... for you! It seems that a lot of kids who were planning to vote for Wendy didn't like how mean she was to you and switched over to vote for you instead. Apparently, some kids even wrote it on their ballots. If you had put up your own nasty poster, they never would have voted for you!"
Debby - now 'President Furst' - smiled with joy and relief. She was glad she won the election, though she knew that once she had decided to play fair no matter what, she was already the winner.
Q. How did Debby's friends feel when they first found out her opponent was putting up a nasty poster?
A. They felt that Debby would have to also if she wanted to win.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They saw that Debby was right, playing fair was the best policy since Wendy's mean posters caused her to lose the election, not win it.
Q. Why didn't Debby put up nasty campaign posters once she found out that her opponent was doing that to her?
A. It was tempting to stoop to her opponent's unfair level, but she remembered just in time that God is the one who decides who will be successful and who won't, and that she would only succeed in the end by doing thing's God's way - the fair way.
Q. Should she have still felt that way if she had lost?
A. Ideally, yes. When we do things the good and fair way we should never regret it, and will always win in the long run, even when it isn't the way we expected. For instance, maybe being president wouldn't have been good for her for some reason, or the experience of losing would give her a tool to help her succeed at more important things later in life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why does it sometimes appear that nasty people get ahead, and the nice guys finish last?
A. This question is as old as mankind itself and there are no simple answers. However, one important thing to remember is that we humans view events from a very limited perspective. From a spiritual perspective, a worldly success that comes at the expense of one's higher values is a net loss. Conversely, we spiritually 'succeed' by choosing to act according to proper values whatever situation we find ourselves. We each have a very real and immortal part of ourselves that will experience in a powerful way each and every one of our spiritual successes and failures.
Q. Is it ever justified to not 'play fair?'
A. No, but we must be sure we understand what fair really is, because sometimes it is different than we might imagine. That's why we have the Torah. It is God's unbiased definitions of fairness, and instructions how to apply them in every conceivable situation. It is comforting and empowering to know that when we act according to the Torah's instructions, we are acting in the fairest and most ethical manner possible.