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Shmini(Leviticus 9-11)

Speak With Respect


It is an important value to treat and speak to others with respect and not with rudeness or chutzpah. This is especially true when speaking to those older than we are. After Passover we enter a semi-mourning period called Sefirat Ha-Omer, in which we commemorate a great catastrophe that once took place at this time of year because the students of Rebbe Akiva didn't treat each other with enough respect. A person who avoids the negative trait of chutzpah and treats others respectfully brings peace to the world and also shows that he respects himself.

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In our story a kid discovers the value of respect.

"WISING UP"

      "What, do you think - I'm your slave or something?" Dana shouted into the phone.

      Greg, her married older brother, had called to ask her to baby-sit for him and his wife that evening.

      "Pay me? You bet you'll pay me. It's going to cost you, and cost you big!" she went on. "Okay, I'll be there in 20 minutes - if you're lucky."

      Dana banged down the phone with a smile on her face. It always gave her a buzz to tell off her big brother or any other adult for that matter.

      "Thanks for coming over, Dana," smiled Ellen, Greg's wife. "We'll be back by 10 PM. The kids just need to eat supper - I have it ready in the microwave - and then to bed. Is that okay?"

      "I guess so, if I have to. And don't be a minute late!" Dana snapped.

      "Dana, could you please speak a little more respectfully to Ellen?" Greg said. "She's an adult, you know," he added.

      But Dana just shrugged. She didn't buy any of this 'respect your elders' stuff and instead made it a point to make sure they respected her.

      Greg and Ellen left and Dana got ready to make some easy money. She figured the little kids would be fed and in bed within half an hour and she could spend the rest of the night raiding the refrigerator and catching up on her chatty phone calls.

      "Okay kids, come sit down. It's time to eat," she said pleasantly, expecting them to come running to the table she had set. Instead, the three kids ran the other way.

      "Hey, I said come here!" she repeated.

      "Who's gonna make us?" one of them burst out laughing, joined by his two siblings.

      'This is ridiculous,' Dana thought. 'How could they just talk back to a baby-sitter like that?' She was sure she'd get them under control soon enough, but after chasing them around the house a couple of times, Dana gave up on supper and decided to skip right to bedtime.

      But that was even worse. Each time she would catch one and put him into bed, the other two would dart out. "Catch us if you can!" they would taunt and jump around like monkeys.

      By now Dana was getting really upset. "Listen, you guys, you have to do what I say!"

      "Why?" squealed little Billy with a mischievous grin.

      "Because I'm the baby-sitter and I'm more than twice as old as you, that's why!" But this only evoked more laughter and Dana finally just let them run around until they fell asleep on their own and then carried them to bed.

      Dana heard the key turning in the door. Finally! Boy was she going to give those two a piece of her mind! Greg and Ellen had hardly gotten in the door when she let them have it.

      "Boy did you sucker me. You must be the world's worst parents to have kids like that!"

      "What happened? "asked Ellen, looking upset.

      "I'll tell you what happened. Those brats of yours - they spent the whole night talking back to me and not paying attention to anything I said. What's wrong with them? Don't they have any respect for people old..."

      "Respect for people older than they are?" Greg finished her sentence with a wry smile.

      Dana was about to answer back her brother sarcastically, but then stopped herself short. Wouldn't mouthing off to them be doing just what she accused the little kids of doing to her? Respecting elders never seemed important to her before, but now after seeing how ugly and wrong it was the way the younger kids treated her, she realized it really was important and right to speak respectfully to older people - just because they're older - and wiser.

      "Well, yeah. I mean, I guess it's not so easy to be respectful and," she looked at Ellen, "I'm sorry if that is how I've been treating both of you."

      Dana took her pay and silently went home. She had had a tough night but had come out of it with a big lesson.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Dana feel about speaking respectfully to people older than her at first?
A. She felt like it didn't matter.

Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw how wrong it was to mouth off to somebody older and decided she wouldn't do it anymore.


Ages 6-9

Q. What lesson did Dana learn from the experience?
A. Up until then, Dana felt like she didn't have to speak respectfully to people who were older than she was and even made it a point not to. But when she was on the other end and saw that there was something very wrong about how the little kids were treating her, she realized that when she spoke to older people disrespectfully, it was coming off just as ugly.

Q. Why do you think Dana was drawn to speak disrespectfully to her adult brother and sister-in-law?
A. She probably felt that it somehow made her 'bigger' or 'cooler' to be able to mouth off at someone older - especially an adult. But really it is the opposite. A person who restrains his impulse to mouth off and is able to speak respectfully proves that he is more mature than he looks and vice versa.

Spiritual exercise: The next time you speak to someone older than yourself, make an extra effort to speak respectfully.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think it is a legitimate value to give special respect to someone on the sole basis of his being older than we are? Why or why not?
A. We should certainly speak respectfully to everybody, regardless of their age, but especially so to those older than we. God set up the world and our lives in a way that we go through different life-stages, from infancy to old age and everything in between. As he reaches each stage, a person gains more maturity, understanding and life experience and therefore becomes legitimately worthy of extra respect from those who haven't yet reached that level.

Q. How do you think our ability to show respect to our elders reflects on our ability to spiritually connect to God?
A. To truly connect spiritually to God, we must first properly respect His infinite greatness. This is a huge step, so to help train us to make this connection, God puts people in our lives, who for various reasons - including age - are worthy of our respect. When we pass the test and show them the respect we should, we become ready to make that ultimate God connection.

Spiritual exercise: The next time you speak to someone older than yourself, make an extra effort to speak respectfully.


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Published: April 19, 2006

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