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Mishpatim(Exodus 21-24)

Playing Fair


Sometimes cheating seems like a quick and easy way to get what we want. But in this week's Torah portion we learn that we should keep far away from cheating or anything else less than true and honest. God wants us to be honest and in the long run it will make us much happier and successful if we are.

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In our story a kid is tempted to cheat and gets a vivid lesson in what cheating accomplishes.

"EXTRA CREDIT"

      "Hah! That's a 'check'!" Barry's cousin, Jonathan, said as he moved his chess piece with a confident smile. "I've really got you on the run now, but I also have to run to the other room for a minute. So you'll have some time to think over your next move - not that it'll help."

      He winked and dashed off, leaving Barry alone. The two boys didn't get together very often - mostly at family gatherings like this one. But when they did, competition was the name of the game and this game of chess looked like one Barry was going to lose.

      Barry studied the chessboard and shook his head. He just didn't see a way to turn the game around. The thought of Jonathan gloating in front of everyone about how he beat his older cousin in chess would be tough to take.

      Out of nowhere, a thought popped into Barry's head. There was no one in the room. He could easily just move a couple of his pieces around and Jonathan would never notice. Yes … if he just switched his rook and knight … it would change everything.

      Barry took a quick glance around the room to make sure no one was there, bent forward and just started to stretch out his hand when suddenly he heard a noise. He quickly sat up straight as Aunt Mollie's Siamese cat darted across the room. The boy laughed to himself and started once again to make his 'unofficial' move. He'd have to hurry before Jonathan got back.

      He was about to switch his pieces when something stopped him - not a noise this time, but a voice inside his head. 'That's cheating!' it said. Barry sighed. He really wanted to win this game, but to do it dishonestly was so … slimy. But on the other hand, it would feel really bad to lose to his gloating cousin… But what kind of win would it be to win this way? He decided he would not cheat.

      A minute later Jonathan came back. "Well, did you come up with a move?"

      Barry shrugged and made a move. They played on and somehow Barry managed to eke out a draw.

      "Okay, everybody to playroom!" Uncle Larry called out, holding a huge bowl of popcorn. Everyone followed him downstairs, spread themselves around the sofas and armchairs and began to munch as Uncle Larry rolled out a video screen. "I made a secret video of today's festivities and you are all the stars!"

      The family all laughed as they watched the funny video, with close ups and cool sound effects. Barry was laughing too, but stopped suddenly as the scene switched to the den where he and Jonathan had been playing chess. He was all alone in room - it must have been when Jonathan had stepped out.

      "And here is our resident chess master, deep in thought," quipped Barry's uncle. The screen zoomed in on Barry's hands and face. The boy turned pale. That was just when he considered - and thankfully decided not to cheat. If he had, everyone - Jonathan, his parents, the whole family - would be watching it all in living color! How would he ever have lived it down?

      The video moved on to something else, but Barry didn't pay much attention. All he could do was silently whisper a prayer of thanks that he hadn't cheated and decided from now on he would try hard to make only right and honest moves - the kind he wouldn't mind seeing replayed over and over - in chess and in life.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Barry feel at first about cheating in the chess game?
A. He really wanted to win and thought this might be a way to do it.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He was really glad he hadn't cheated, both because he would have been caught and also because it was a bad thing to do.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Barry came out with that day?
A. At first he had been very tempted to cheat in order to get what he wanted. He fortunately stopped himself but even then thought he had lost out a little by doing so. But when they showed the video he realized that being honest wasn't only ethically right, but also pays off in unexpected ways.

Q. Do you think if Barry had cheated, won the game and hadn't been caught, he would have come out ahead? Why or why not?
A. It might have seemed so at first, but cheating and dishonesty never brings a person good or happiness in the long run. He's likely to get caught eventually and even if not, he's always living a lie and feels bad about himself deep down.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Can a person ever act dishonestly and 'get away with it'?
A. It depends what and who he is trying to 'get away' from. There are three levels of awareness of every act we do: the awareness of other people, our own awareness, and that of God. It is possible that our act might escape other's awareness - although less often than we might hope, however we, ourselves will always be aware of our behavior and acting dishonestly will lower our self-esteem even if we are not conscious of it doing so. What is more, God is intimately aware of our every thought word and act. In fact our tradition teaches that part of our afterlife consists of being shown a detailed 'replay' of our entire lives and the more our choices reflected our higher values the more positive will the experience be.

Q. Is it ever okay to cheat or break the rules?
A. Generally speaking the ethical choice is adhere to the laws, rules and codes of conduct of whatever situation we are involved in. However when these are genuinely unethical and destructive there may be times when it is more ethical to break the rules than to follow them.


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Published: February 18, 2006

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