Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping off a cliff is dangerous for sure. But there is another type of jumping that is even more dangerous: jumping to conclusions about someone's behavior and putting him down, without knowing all the facts. In this week's Torah portion, Miriam, Moses' sister, unjustifiably criticized him to their brother, Aaron, because she was not aware of the fact of how great a prophet he was. We can learn from here to give people the benefit of the doubt and not be any quicker to jump to negative conclusions than we would be to jump off a cliff.
In our story some kids learn the hard way why it's a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt.
"TAKING A BACK SEAT"
Volunteering at the county hospital rehabilitation center had been one of the most rewarding experiences Wendy and her friend, Jan, had ever had. They were happy to be able to lend a hand and make a difference in people's lives. It was always interesting work, but today promised to be especially fun since their assignment was to join the staff on an outing with a group of patients to a park across town.
The girls got on the crowded public bus and settled comfortably in their seats when a group of three elderly ladies got on. Seeing there were no more places for them to sit down, Wendy tapped her friend on the shoulder. "Hey let's give them our seats," she said. "It's not a long ride and I'm sure it will be easier for us to stand than it will be for them."
Jan readily agreed, and the two of them got up and offered their seats to two of the grateful staff people.
A few seats behind them sat a girl about their age. Wendy figured she was another volunteer. The girls assumed that when they got up for the older people, this kid would take the hint and let the third elderly lady sit down. But somehow she didn't get it, because even though the old lady was standing almost right next to her, the kid didn't budge.
As the bus started moving Wendy and Jan grew more and more annoyed at the pitiful sight of the elderly person who was obviously not having such an easy time standing, while the healthy young volunteer sat comfortably with her face buried in a magazine as if she couldn't care less.
It just wasn't right. Sure, it was more comfortable to sit, but they had given up their seats, why couldn't this kid too?
"Boy, it must be hard for older people to stand in a bus," Wendy commented to her friend, making sure to raise her voice loud enough that the kid sitting down would hear.
Jan got the hint. "You know it's really proper manners to give up your seat to older people, isn't it?" she said in a loud voice.
By this time, the kid realized they were talking about her and started squirming uncomfortably. But apparently she didn't feel too uncomfortable, because she just stayed put in her seat. By now the girls were amazed at this kid's insensitivity. She seemed determined to sit comfortably and let the elderly staff person suffer, no matter what. But Wendy and Jan weren't ready to give up so easily - not when they were so sure that they were in the right.
"It seems that some people never learn manners and only care about themselves," said Wendy, this time looking straight at the girl, in a loud enough voice that the heads of some of the other passengers began to turn and notice what was going on. More people started to give the young girl who remained seated some dirty looks, and even began muttering amongst themselves about her lack of respect.
The kid was turning red from embarrassment. But still, she kept her eyes glued to the window and refused to get up! 'What nerve!' the girls thought as the bus began slowing down. They had arrived at the park. "Well at least now that poor lady will be able to sit down!" Wendy said to Jan as they got down from the bus.
Everyone started to walk into the park for the picnic as the girls turned around to give one final look of disapproval at the girl who refused to give up her seat. But she was nowhere to be found.
Just then, they noticed one of the assistants climbing back onto the bus with a folded wheelchair in his arms. A moment later he was wheeling the chair back down a special ramp, with that young girl sitting inside it.
Wendy looked at Jan and cringed. The kid wasn't a volunteer after all - she was a patient! She was wearing two serious looking leg braces that they hadn't been able to see when she was sitting in the bus. No wonder the kid hadn't stood up - she couldn't!
"Oh no! What did we do?!" Wendy exclaimed as she surveyed the park for any convenient rock to crawl under.
"I feel horrible!" Jan cried. "We're here to help the patients, not embarrass them to tears!"
Wendy nodded her head in shame. "From now on no more jumping to conclusions about people. We've got some work to do - starting with a huge apology and some begging for forgiveness."
Q. How did the girls feel when they saw that the young girl wouldn't stand up for the older person?
A. They felt sure she was just being selfish and mean.
Q. How did they feel when they saw her in a wheelchair? A. They felt embarrassed that they had jumped to conclusions and hadn't given her the benefit of the doubt, that if she didn't get up she must have had a good reason.
Q. What did Wendy and Jan discover about life that day?
A. They saw a situation that they thought they understood clearly - a selfish and insensitive kid - and felt totally justified in passing judgment and putting the kid down. In the end they saw how they were missing a key fact, which changed the whole picture. This happens a lot in life, and the lesson they learned, and we should too, is to give people the benefit of the doubt and not jump to negative conclusions even when it seems clear.
Q. What do you think Jan and Wendy should have done?
A. They were justified in caring about the older person's discomfort. But what they should have done is give the sitting girl the benefit of the doubt, assuming she had a good reason to remain seated, and at the same time quietly approach her and without embarrassing her, try to find out if she was able to give up her seat, and then they would have discovered that their favorable judgment had been correct.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach us that when we first meet someone and we are not sure of his intentions we should simultaneously 'respect them and suspect them.' What does that idea mean to you?
A. While God asks us to give people the benefit of the doubt, He also doesn't want us to get hurt. Therefore, the proper balance is on one hand to assume everyone is good and judge them favorably, but at the same time take reasonable precautions - just in case we're wrong.
Q. Do you think the way we judge others has any effect on the way God judges us?
A. God set up the world in a way that we have the power to determine how He is going to judge us. He lets us decide whether He will look at us with a kind, forgiving eye or in a more strict, uncompromising manner. We determine this by how we judge others. However much we focus on the good in others, God focuses on the good in us and vice versa. If we realized how much we had to gain, we would try with all our might always to give people the benefit of the doubt.