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Matot(Numbers 30:2-32:42)

Good For the Group


What do we do when what's best for us personally seems to clash with what's best for the group we're part of? In this week's Torah portion, some of the 12 tribes traveling together to the Land of Israel felt it would be better for themselves to split off and settle on their own. Yet, this would weaken the rest of the group and make it harder for them to reach their goal. Moses guided them to find a compromise in order help themselves without hurting anyone else, teaching us a lesson for all time - try to find a solution that makes everyone happy.

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In our story some kids struggle to balance conflicting needs.

"SLICING IT RIGHT"

A lot of camps have tug-of-wars as part of their activities, but this was the first time in the history of Camp Winnipeg that they had a tug of war not with a rope, but a salami!

"Hey, that's mine! You have no right to take it from me!" squealed Jason, as he pulled one end of the sausage with all his might.

"And you have no right to stink up the whole cabin and make us all sick!" insisted an equally determined Raphael, as he pulled hard in the opposite direction.

The trouble all began less than a week ago on parent's visiting day, when Jason's dad, who owned a delicatessen, left him a giant, two-and-a-half foot long, very smelly garlic salami as a going-away present. Jason thought it was the perfect thing to eat in the bunk as a snack during afternoon break. But Raphael and all the other seven bunkmates disagreed.

The first day or two nobody said anything, but once the guys realized the salami was so big it would probably last Jason all summer (and the next winter too), they began complaining, begging, and finally insisting that he give the thing a decent burial at the bottom of the camp's lake. When Jason adamantly refused, Raphael decided to take the matter (and the salami) into his own hands.

"Just let go of it and leave me alone," said Jason, now tugging even harder, "I can eat whatever I want during break and whoever doesn't like it - too bad."

"We all have the right to have our break time in a bunk that doesn't smell like a garlic factory!" With that, Raphael gave a mighty tug and the salami split in two. Both boy flew in opposite directions and crashed against the cabin's walls.

"Hey, what's all that racket going on in there? Don't you know you're supposed to be resting on your break, not waking up every bear in the woods?"

The kids looked up; it was old Sam, the camp's maintenance man.

"I was just passing by on my way to fix the generator, when I heard… Hey, it smells like salami in here. I love a good deli sandwich."

Jason jumped up. "I do too! But these guys won't let me eat it. Doesn't a person have a right to eat his own private food?"

"Sure he does," Sam said, nodding in agreement.

Raphael, not to be out-done, jumped up. "But none of us can stand the smell. Doesn't the whole bunk have the right not to let one person ruin things for everybody?"

"That makes perfect sense, too," Sam agreed.

"And that's why we're not going to!" Raphael lunged again at Jason and tried to grab the piece of salami still in his hand and the two boys started tumbling on the floor.

"WHOA!!!" Old Sam's loud voice called out as he pulled them apart with his strong hands. "You're both right. But fighting it out is no way to handle it. Wouldn't it be better to find a way that will make both Jason and the rest of you happy?"

The boys looked up at him, confused but interested as the man went on.

"You guys get a half-hour break, right?"

They nodded.

"Well, what if you, Jason, agree not to eat the salami until the last three minutes of the break, and the rest of you boys can either stay around and bear it for a measly three minutes, or go outside a bit early? This way everyone wins."

For a minute nobody said a thing. Then everyone smiled. It was a compromise they could all live with and they were happy they had found a better way.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jason and Raphael feel at first?
A. They felt they were 100% right and each had to have it his way.

Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They saw how it was better to find a way to compromise and let both Jason and the other kids get what they wanted.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life lesson do you think the boys learned that day?
A. Jason had felt that his rights and what he wanted as an individual were the most important things even if they made the group unhappy, and Raphael felt that the group's needs were all that counted. But with help, they realized that both kinds of needs are legitimate and were able to find a way that respected both.

Q. How can a person learn how to make fair compromises?
A. It is important to try to look at things in a balanced way. Instead of saying it's either all or nothing, he can think of what he really needs and what others really need and try to find creative ways it can work out for everyone.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think it is possible to achieve what is best for oneself without compromising what's best for society and vice-versa?
A. It depends on our outlook. If we see ourselves as a bunch of unconnected competing individuals, then it is unlikely. However the deeper truth is that all of humanity is really one and if we focus on our common source - God, and our common goals - to live in harmony with healthy values, we will see our needs and society's needs begin to merge.

Q. When should our individual preferences take precedence and when should those of the group?
A. If our preferences are based on our ethical sense of right and wrong and we feel that society is violating these, then it is appropriate to stand firm. However, if they are only based on what is more pleasant or more comfortable for us, it may be more proper to give in and compromise.


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Published: July 15, 2006

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