Lech Lecha(Genesis 12-17)
Standing Against the Crowd
Being part of a group is great, but it can also drag us down if there is some negative behavior in the group and we feel pressured to go along. In this week's portion, God instructs Abraham to pull himself away from the negative behaviors of the people around him and be his own man. We can learn from Abraham to stick to our values of right and wrong even if those around us try to get us to act otherwise.
In our story, a kid struggles not to get swept along by the crowd.
"REBEL WITH A CAUSE"
Yuchh! Cindy ran coughing to the washroom sink and felt like she had just swallowed an ashtray. How could anyone stand putting these things in their mouths? Yet that was just what all the kids in the crowd Cindy had been hanging out with lately were doing, and it kind of made her feel like she had to start smoking too.
She liked being part of tight group of friends since it made her feel accepted and not alone. But being part of them meant doing what they did, even if some of the things they were into made Cindy uncomfortable.
For a while she had been able to avoid the smoking issue by saying she wasn't in the mood. But today during mid-morning break, Cindy felt stuck. Vicky, one of the group's leaders of the group which called itself 'the Rebels', handed her the cigarette she was smoking and told her to take a puff. Cindy felt she really didn't have a choice and took a few puffs and now she felt totally nauseous, her throat was burning and she had to get herself together before the next class started in a just a few minutes.
The girl quickly popped a couple of breath mints into her mouth to kill the taste, and looking into the mirror over the sink, tried her best to make herself look presentable for class, although it would be a challenge to do anything with her spiky, gelled-up hair. She felt the hairstyle made her look ridiculous, but it was what all the kids were wearing, and she had gone along too - just because.
History had never been one of Cindy's favorite subjects. She was much more into thinking about the present, if not the future, but the way Mrs. Travis, their teacher taught it, it kind of seemed real. So despite her head still spinning from the disgusting cigarette smoke, Cindy tried to tune in.
"Abraham, the father of the Jewish people was a big rebel," the teacher remarked.
A rebel? That certainly wasn't the picture of Abraham Cindy had in her mind. The teacher continued. "His ideas put him on one side of the river, while the whole world stood on the other. But no matter how they pressured him to be like them, no matter what they said, did, or even threatened, Abraham wouldn't budge from what he knew was right. Nobody likes to stand alone, but to Abraham, being true to himself - and to God - was worth the price. He was a rebel to do what was right."
Wow, thought Cindy. She could really relate to being pressured. She pushed back the hair off her forehead and cringed as the sticky gel gooed up her hand.
Cindy hurried to get ready to go to lunch. She felt much more normal now that she had shampooed all that gunk out of her hair after her gym class. What a shame, she thought, that she would have to put it right back in. She reached for the tube of hair gel on her locker shelf and was about to give it a squeeze when for some reason the morning's History class, and what the teacher had said, popped into her mind. That Abraham must have had a lot of guts to do what he did and not just go along with things because everyone else did. I like my hair the way it is, what do I need this stuff for? She tucked the tube, unused, back into her locker.
Although she usually gulped down her sandwich in just a few bites so she could run out to the playground where her crowd was waiting, today Cindy found herself trying to eat as slowly as possible. She wasn't looking forward to how the kids were going to react to her new look. Soon enough she finished eating and - taking a deep breath - she stood up and went to face the crowd.
Cindy breathed a sigh of relief when no one said anything about her hair, or even seemed to notice. Maybe this wasn't going to be so hard after all. But she had spoken too soon, because right then Vicky and a few other kids were walking towards her, all smoking and holding a pack of cigarettes.
"Hey Cindy," said Vicky, "we're all grabbing a smoke before class, and I'm sure you'd want to join the crowd." Cindy felt that everyone was looking at her and waiting for her to light up. The pressure was huge. She started to reach for the pack even though she knew smoking was a terrible thing to do. (Her dad was a doctor and he often came home with stories of someone who had checked into the hospital, or worse, checked out of the hospital and into the cemetery because of smoking.) But how could she just stand alone?
Stand alone! she thought to herself. Wasn't that just what Abraham did? This was not going to be easy, but neither would be messing up her body with those disgusting and deadly cigarettes!
She pulled back her hand. "No thanks Vicky, I don't smoke," she said, hoping that would be the end of it.
But Vicky wouldn't let her off so easily. "What's the matter, you're not part of the Rebels any more?"
Cindy thought fast, and smiled. "Sure I am, but even the Rebels need a rebel, don't they?"
The kids laughed and the tension broke. Cindy was relieved, glad she had taken a stand.
From that day on, she started hanging around less and less with the smoking crowd - they were just pushing her in a direction she didn't want to go. Soon enough she made some great new friendships with kids who shared her values, and was happy she had had the guts, like Abraham, to be a real rebel, that is a rebel to do what she knew was right.
Q. How did Cindy feel at first when the kids tried to get her to smoke? A. She felt like since everyone else was doing it, she had to also. Q. How did she feel in the end? A. She felt like the most important thing was to do what was right, even if her friends weren't.
Q. Why was Cindy willing at first to smoke and spike up her hair if she thought it was wrong?
A. When we want to be close to a certain group of people, we naturally feel a desire to behave the way they behave. If the group is behaving in a positive way, this is great, and can help us grow, but like in the story, when the group is behaving negatively, we can feel - like Cindy did - pressured to go along, even against our better judgment.
Q. Do you think it would be smart for Cindy to drop that group of friends? Why or why not?
A. Although it feels good to be part of a group, it has its price. In this case it would mean Cindy doing things that were in her eyes foolish and dangerous. She was smart enough to realize that sticking with them was pulling her in their direction, and sooner or later she would likely cave into the social pressure to act like them. So she would be making the right decision to distance herself - which in fact she did.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. The story refers to Abraham as being a rebel. Is rebelling a positive or negative thing in your eyes?
A. Like most things, the answer has a lot to do with the circumstances, and one's motivations. To rebel for the sake of rebelling, or just to make waves, is counterproductive and unwise, especially if one is rebelling against something which is basically good. However, if like Abraham, and the girl in the story, one finds oneself surrounded by and being pulled toward negative values, then rebelling can be a very positive and brave response.
Q. Does a person necessarily have to be dragged down by the people around him, or is it possible to be part of a group of wrong-doers and still do right?
A. A human being doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is human nature to be influenced by the people around us. It is hard to resist, because the change first takes place on the subconscious level. Often before we even know we have been influenced, it's too late. Sometimes we have no choice but to be surrounded by people with values we don't share, but when we can, we should make every effort to become close to those who will lift us up, and not drag us down.