Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
Tripping Them Up
We all know that it's wrong to stick out our foot and purposely trip someone as he's walking - especially if the person can't see where he's going. This week's Torah portion teaches us about another type of 'tripping' which is just as wrong, but very easy to overlook. That is tripping people up by misleading or giving them bad advice even when it seems like we might gain by doing so.
In our story a kid faces the choice of advising someone to do what would be best for that person - or for himself.
"HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER"
Josh was carefully threading the thin nylon line through the thin wire loops of his fishing pole when he noticed his bunkmate, Bruce, all tangled up in his fishing line like a cat playing with a ball of yarn. Josh could barely hold himself back from laughing. "Bruce, it looks like you caught yourself before you had a chance to catch any fish!"
"That's the problem," Bruce sighed. "I've never been fishing before and I have absolutely no idea of what to do. You look like you've been doing it all your life. Do you think you could maybe help me get started?"
It was true - ever since Josh could remember, his dad had taken him out on fishing trips on lakes just like this one. That's why he figured he was a shoe-in to win the camp's biggest fish contest. "Really, you've never done it even once?" Josh asked.
"Nope," shrugged Bruce. "The closest I had ever come to fishing before today was trying to scoop tuna out of a can. How do you turn this thing on anyways?" he asked shaking the fishing pole. "And aren't we supposed to tie worms onto it or something?"
Josh took the kid's pole and within moments had it untangled, threaded and baited. "There you go, and good luck," he said, turning back to his own serious business of winning the contest and its prize of a big gift certificate from the camp store.
He had expected Bruce to take off right away, but instead he hung around watching and questioning him about his every move. "Now tell me, where's the best place to catch fish?"
"In the water, I'd suppose," answered Josh, beginning to get annoyed.
"No," laughed Bruce. "I mean is there a trick to it? You know, from which side of the boat or anything like that?"
Josh tensed up. There was indeed a trick to it. His dad had taught him how to look at the boat shadow on the water and figure out where the most and biggest fish were sure to be. But that was going to be his private secret to winning the contest. And besides, having the annoying kid next to him all day asking him questions wouldn't leave him a moment's peace.
Instead of telling him, Josh decided to just make something up. Bruce would never know the difference anyway, would he?
"Best place? Well, you should just go over to the front of the boat, so you get first crack at the fish before anyone else does."
"Gee, thanks for the tip, man," smiled Bruce, hurrying off to follow his 'expert advice.'
Josh had settled in and cast his line - but in the real best place - when he began to feel uneasy. Maybe it really wasn't right to have misled the kid like that. Okay, I don't have to give away my secret, but to purposely tell him where the fish were least likely to be isn't really cool.
He tried to push those thoughts out of his mind, but they just wouldn't go. The fish must have felt his tension too, because he hadn't gotten anything close to a bite.
After a few more minutes Josh reeled in his line and got up to go tell Bruce the truth. After all, he had relied on him for good advice, not bad. He walked over to the front of the boat and saw Bruce leaning over the railing like he was sick or something. As he got closer he saw that he wasn't sick, but pulling hard on his line. Had it gotten it stuck under the boat?
"Hey Bruce, I got a confession to make..." he started to say, when he noticed his line jerking in a way that could only mean one thing - he had caught a fish, and a big one too!
Josh ran over and grabbed onto the struggling kid's pole to help him reel it in. "Wow, what a whopper!" he said amazed, as the shining, flopping, and HUGE Big-Mouth Bass emerged from the water.
They rushed to weigh it and then set it free. Josh had fished enough to know the kid had just put the contest in the bag.
"Beginner's luck," said Bruce, smiling from ear to ear. "Thanks to your expert advice!" he added brightly.
Josh's face turned white. He knew the real truth, that Bruce didn't catch that fish because of his good advice - but in spite of his misleading advice. Suddenly Josh got the strong feeling that Bruce's miraculous winning catch was a message to him, straight from heaven, that he should really try to help people who ask his advice and that he'd never find good for himself by withholding good from others.
"You know what," Josh said, "come to think of it, you might do best to come over and do your fishing right next to me now. I'll teach you a few fishing tricks I know and ... just maybe I'll catch some of your 'luck' too."
Q. How did Josh feel at first about giving Bruce advice?
A. He felt that it was okay to tell him to do things he knew really wasn't best for him.
Q. How did he feel differently in the end?
A. He felt like it had really been wrong to mislead him, and that he should only give people true advice from now on.
Q. What lesson did Josh discover on that fishing trip?
A. He learned that when people turn to us for help or advice, we shouldn't deceive them by advising them in a way we know isn't in their best interest; rather, we should make an extra effort to help them whenever we reasonably can.
Q. Do you think a person can get ahead by misleading others?
A. Even if it seems as if he is at first, in the end it is bound to backfire. God wants us to be honest with and help others. When we do, He will see to it that we ultimately gain from it and vice-versa.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Had Josh actually done anything wrong by giving Bruce the advice he did, if after all, Bruce had caught a big fish anyway?
A. Maybe Josh hadn't ended up hurting Bruce, but he had ultimately weakened his own character by acting dishonestly. Every act of good we do, and positive ethical choice we make, helps to build and perfect our character, and negative choices do the opposite.
Q. Must we give someone advice that we feel will be good for him - but bad for us?
A. A person is allowed to protect his own interests. For instance, an inventor needn't give away his secret formula to a competitor just because he asks. However, deliberately misleading others is unacceptable, and more often than we think we can help others with good advice and lose nothing in the process. God wants us to help others and has many ways to make sure we won't lose out by doing so.