None of Your Business
Quarreling is bad news. Even quarreling over something that affects us personally is really negative and something we should try our best to avoid. However, butting into other people's quarrels, that aren't any of our business, is even worse. In this week's portion we learn how the two nations of Moab and Midian teamed up to make big problems for the Jewish people as they were on their way to the Land of Israel. Even though both nations were in on it together, God told us to respond more strictly against Midian, because the quarrel had nothing to do with them, and they were making trouble for no reason. The point is that when we see a quarrel, unless we can genuinely help to make peace, we should keep our noses out of it!
In our story, a kid learns the value of staying out of other people's fights.
"KEEPING THEIR COOL"
Janet Goldman had used all of her artistic talents to set up her dorm room, and was rightfully proud of how it looked. But then again, here at the special creative arts summer program she was attending, probably everyone else's room looked just as cool.
Wanting to see some of the other rooms, and maybe start making friends, she walked down the hall to the other end of the dorm. She had just introduced herself to a nice kid named Stacy when another girl, apparently Stacy's assigned roommate, came clunking down the hall with a huge box on wheels.
She didn't pay it much attention, but noticed that Stacy's face was turning red and her eyes were nearly popping out of her head.
"No way! I already told you, there is no way you're hooking up that noisy monstrosity in this room!" Stacy cried out to her roommate.
The other girl seemed just as mad, and just as determined. "This is half my room, and I'll do what I want!" she said.
After a few more yells back and forth, Janet got the picture. It seemed that the roommate, named Ann, had brought an air conditioner as part of her luggage, which she planned to set up in their window, and Stacy was super-sensitive to motor noise and claimed that the noise the air conditioner would make would grind on her nerves and keep her awake all night.
At first Janet just listened, but soon joined into the fray, siding with her new friend, Stacy. "Come on, Ann. What do you even need an air conditioner for? Are you so spoiled you can't even go three weeks without one?"
"If you don't mind, keep out of it," hissed Ann. "This is something between roommates, and none of your business."
But by now, Janet was already into the argument, and arguing as well as she painted, pretty soon, despite nobody asking her, she was doing most of Stacy's talking for her.
The fight grew louder and louder, with no apparent end in sight. "What in the world is going on, girls?" Startled, they looked up at the gentle but confident looking woman standing over them. It was Mrs. Fedder, the dorm mother. They blurted out their story, with Janet in the lead, and after patiently hearing them out, the woman stroked her chin, looking over at the object of contention, the still-boxed air conditioner.
Suddenly Mrs. Fedder's eyes lit up. "Look over here. It says the motor unit can be either window or roof mounted. Here's our solution. From the roof you won't hear the motor. That way you will all be cool, and quiet. We can just have an installer put the motor on the roof. Of course you kids will have to pay for the work, but splitting it three ways it shouldn't cost much. So if each of you will give me ten dollars now, I'll arrange..."
Stacy and Ann immediately calmed down, and reached for their wallets. They seemed happy with the solution, but Janet started to get nervous. "Uh, Mrs. Fedder, I don't think I should have to pay anything. You know I'm not the third roommate or anything. This has nothing to do with me."
Mrs. Fedder gave her a stern look, which melted into a strange smile. "Oh, really? But you were very involved in the argument, weren't you? It seems that this very much has to do with you. Surely then you also want to pay something to put an end to this argument."
Janet felt herself squirm. "Well, really, no. You see I live way down the other end of the hall. It really isn't even any of my..."
"Isn't even any of your business, right?" Ann finished the sentence for her. "I wish you realized that before you started calling me all those nasty names," she said with hurt in her voice.
Janet looked down at the floor, then looked up at three faces that all confirmed what she was already thinking - she had gone way out of line by jumping headlong into a fight that had nothing to do with her.
"Um ... you're right, and I'm really sorry," Janet said, quietly.
"I know you're all talented artists," Mrs. Fedder said, "but it's also an art to get along. And it's important to avoid quarrels, especially when they don't concern us. Now why don't you all practice that art by making up now?"
After a tense moment of silence, Janet held out her hand to Ann, who slowly took it. Then Stacy placed her hand on top of both of theirs. Janet learned a hard lesson, but one she felt was going to help her and all of them master the art of minding their business, and keeping their cool all summer long.
Q. How did Janet feel when she first stepped into the fight?
A. She felt like she had the right to get involved and wasn't doing anything wrong.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized that since the quarrel had nothing to do with her, she should have stayed out of it.
Q. What lesson do we learn from that incident?
A. It is temping when we see people arguing to want to 'put our two cents in.' It may seem harmless, but it isn't. Besides simply not being our business, also more people being involved tends to heats things up and makes the quarrel grow bigger. Quarrels are like fire that burns people for life and is the cause of much of the world's troubles. Who in his right mind would want to jump into a fire?
Q. Both Janet and Mrs. Fedder got involved in the argument. What was the difference if any?
A. It was a world of difference. Mrs. Fedder got involved in a constructive way to help the kids find a peaceful solution to their quarrel. Janet got involved and took sides in the fight itself, which was both destructive and inappropriate.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think the Torah considers the one who enters into other people's quarrels as being more destructive than the quarrelers themselves?
A. Quarreling is in itself a very destructive activity. It is a root cause for much of the world's strife throughout history and today. Yet sometimes a person feels threatened in some way, and his heated emotions and desire to defend himself drag him into a quarrel. This was the case of the two roommates in the story. Unfortunate, but understandable. However, this excuse only applies to someone directly involved with a situation. Someone who joins into a quarrel, like Janet did, even though she is not compelled by the emotional intensity of being personally affected by it, has done something much more destructive.
Q. Is it ever appropriate to enter a quarrel, such as to protest an injustice, etc.?
A. There are rare times when, yes we must step in to prevent an injustice. However, this should only be done with much caution and after much consideration of the situation and our motives. Certainly, as in the case of the story, where the girl just wanted to express an opinion, or show loyalty to a friend, it did not justify the serious step of getting involved in a fight.