There are different ways to teach people the right way to behave. Sometimes a gentle word, or hint is all it takes. But if these are ignored, it could be that stronger measures are needed. In our Torah portion we learn of how much God loves the Jewish people and wants them to be close to Him. He tells them of all the wonderful things that will happen to them if they will only turn to Him and place their trust in Him. Yet God also tells them that if they choose not to do so, the consequence will be that He will have to get their attention in other ways that may not be so pleasant. God is our loving parent, who really wants what's best for us, and does whatever's needed to help us get there.
In our story, a boy learns about accepting the consequences of his actions.
Jeff Waterman was sitting in his room, moping. He looked out the window longingly at the beautiful sunny spring day. He felt pangs of jealousy as he watched the neighborhood kids running, jumping, bike-riding and having a great time. But not him. He was stuck indoors. Grounded for a whole week.
He must have the most unfair parents in the entire world, he thought. Why did they have to ground him for absolutely no reason? And when he kept asking 'Why?!" his Dad had told him to think about it, and he would realize why. Ok, maybe it was true that he didn't exactly do what they said. But still...
It all started yesterday morning. Jeff and Kevin's bikes were packed and they were ready to go. Jeff and his friend Kevin were all set to head out on an exciting bicycle trip throughout Blue Crescent Valley. Jeff stopped off in the family room where his mom was at work on her computer to say goodbye. "Have a nice time, boys," his mom said, "but please remember to call in from your cell-phone every hour or so, and be home before dark."
"No problem, Mom," Jeff nodded half-heartedly as he slipped out the door. The two boys eagerly set out on the road. It was great riding weather and the hours felt like minutes as the boys explored caverns, skipped rocks on Old Miner's Lake. They chugged their way up hill, and coasted high-speed down. Kevin would take a break from time to time to phone home, but Jeff was so caught up having fun, that he didn't bother to phone up his mom even once. And, as usual he had the ringer switched off so that nobody could reach him if they tried.
The day wound on, and before the boys knew it the sun was nearly sinking below the horizon and they were still nowhere close to home. Kevin looked up at his friend, concerned. "Hey Jeff, didn't your mom tell you to be home before dark? I got permission to stay out, but you didn't. Shouldn't we get going?"
Jeff just shrugged. "It doesn't really matter. My mom just worries a lot. I'm sure when she hears what a great time I was having, it'll be okay."
The boys took their time, even stopping to watch the moon rise over the lake. Finally, about an hour and a half after dark, Jeff came rolling in. "Hi, mom. What's for dinner?" he said, flipping his baseball cap onto the shelf.
His mom rushed in from the next room. She looked relieved - and upset. "What happened, Jeff? You're so late. I was worried about you! Why didn't you call? I must have left six messages on your cell phone. Is it broken?"
Jeff really didn't have any good answers to any of these question, and after discussing it with his father, Jeff's mom had informed him that because he had disregarded their rules he would have to spend the next week at home after school.
When Jeff called up his friend that night to tell him the bad news, he expected Kevin to be sympathetic. Instead he seemed to agree with his parents. "I heard your mom ask you to call her, and to get home early. You didn't do either of these things. What can you expect?"
As the boy sat quietly on his bed thinking about yesterday's events, Jeff started to understand. Although he felt unhappy about the punishment, he realized that it did come as a consequence of the choices he had made. After all, he did choose not to call his mom or come home on time. Maybe - just maybe, he admitted, his parents really weren't so unfair after all.
Q. How did Jeff feel when he found out he was grounded?
A. He was upset, and thought it was unfair.
Q. How did he feel after he thought about it?
A. He realized that since he had chosen not to obey his mom, that it was fair of his parents to ground him.
Q. Do you think that Jeff deserved to get grounded? Why or why not?
A. While it might not be pleasant for Jeff to have to stay in, it is justified. He was given a clear set of instructions by his mom, and he chose not to follow them. It naturally followed that he would have to face the consequences of his choice.
Q. If Jeff's parents allowed him to do whatever he wanted without consequences, would they be doing him a favor?
A. At first he might feel as though they were, but ultimately it would be doing him a lot of harm. The nature of life is that the choices we make have consequences, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. By teaching this to their son, Jeff's parents are helping him to understand this fact of life, and helping him to make better choices.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach us that 'one positive decision or action leads to another, and likewise one negative decision or action leads to another.' Why do you think this is so?
A. The decisions we make, and the actions we take, largely determine the course of our lives. Each time we choose to do something positive, we are in essence training ourselves in that direction. The next time we are faced in a similar situation, we will find ourselves more naturally inclined to make another positive choice. The same dynamic works in the negative, as well. Sometimes choosing to do the right thing, even when it's difficult, can be a turning point to bring us to a better, happier life.
Q. Many classical Jewish writings refer to God as our parent. How do you think this analogy applies?
A. A parent has a very special relationship with a child. He loves him intensely, yet at times he must express this love in the form of restriction or discipline. The parent has a clear picture of what life-tools will ultimately give the child the best chance to achieve happiness and success. In his great love for the child, he will do whatever he can to educate him in this way, even if at times it brings him into conflict with the child's desires. God, our loving parent, cares for us so deeply that He arranges every event in our lives for the sole purpose of bringing us the most ultimate spiritual good, although at times we, His children aren't yet able to recognize it.