Stand Strong for Right and Wrong
It is important to stay clear and focused on what we know deep down is right and wrong, and not become confused or swayed if people try to tell us otherwise. In this week's Torah portion, when God gives the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, He warns them not to fall into the trap of adopting the false values of the surrounding nations. The lesson is that a person must always stand strong when it comes to what's right and wrong.
In our story, a kid has to decide where he stands.
Josh Green was excited. This year, he was going to have a really great story to tell about 'how I spent my summer vacation.' His old best friend, Pete, who had moved out of town at the beginning of the school year, invited him to spend a couple of weeks with him at his new home, which was right by the beach!
Josh's parents remembered Pete as being a good kid, so they gave him permission to go and even paid for half of his round-trip bus ticket-the rest he'd earned by doing odd jobs and chores.
The ride went smoothly and with suitcase in hand and high expectations, Josh got off the bus and walked toward the information booth of the bus terminal where he had made up to meet his friend.
When he got there, Josh didn't know what to do. Not only wasn't Pete there, but there was a group of tough looking kids hanging around. They were acting really rowdy and disrespectful and Josh felt a little scared. Suddenly one of the kids lunged at Josh and gave him a bear hug.
"Hey, buddy, you made it! Great to see ya, man."
He knew that voice anywhere. It was Pete for sure. But wow, had he changed since they'd last seen each other almost a year ago! Back home he'd just been a regular looking kind of quiet kid, but now he was dressed in torn clothes, his hair was dyed crazy colors and he was acting really loud and wild.
"Come on Josh, man. Let's get outta here and go have some fun, but first I want you to meet some of my pals."
Hesitantly, Josh stuck out his hand and shook hands with the kids who looked even scarier than Pete did.
Josh had assumed Pete's parents were going to drive him home from the bus station, but instead they all piled into a crazy looking van that belonged to one of Pete's friends who had a driver's license (Josh hoped). They tore out of the parking lot and down the street at breakneck speed. Booming music was blaring so loud that Josh could hardly hear Pete talking to him, even though they were sitting right next to each other.
"You're gonna love it out here, pal!" Pete yelled in his ear. "Back in the old place life was so boring, but since I came here I discovered what life's really about."
Josh wasn't sure about that, but not wanting to get into an argument with his old friend and doubtful whether he'd even be able to yell back loud enough for Pete to hear him over the music, he just smiled and nodded politely.
After a few minutes of running stop signs and breaking speed limits, they got to Pete's place.
It was a nice, big house and right on the ocean just like his friend had said it was, but when they went inside, Josh got a surprise. He remembered Pete's house back home always being neat and clean, but here it was a mess and it smelled really bad, like smoke and garbage. Josh didn't remember either of Pete's parents as being smokers.
"Um, Pete, where are your parents?" Josh asked. His friend let out a loud, rowdy laugh. "Ha! They're half-way around the world on vacation, man. We've got this whole place to ourselves to do whatever we want!"
"You mean your parents actually gave you permission to let everyone stay here and trash the place like this?"
"Look, before they left they told me to have a good time. So what better time could I have than parties every night, right?" Josh nodded uncomfortably. "Speaking of which," Pete went on, "we're all out of refreshments for tonight's party. Come on, let's go out to the store and stock up on some stuff. But first you've got to change out of those boring, nerdy clothes. Here, put these on," he smiled, digging some very extreme looking clothing out of his closet, "and put some of this stuff in your hair, too," he added.
Josh felt funny dressing like that, but he went along. After all, he was on vacation and since Pete and his whole crowd dressed that way, maybe it was really okay.
"There, now you look much better and cooler. Let's go."
They got to the store and after stuffing their shopping cart full to the top with junk food and various other party needs, they got into the checkout line.
"You have enough money to pay for all this?" Josh asked, amazed.
"Sure, I've got my old man's credit card."
"And your parents said you could use it for stuff like this?"
Pete laughed and said, "They told me I could use it for necessities. And having good stuff to serve at a party is the biggest necessity there is, right?"
Josh felt all confused. Deep down he felt that Pete was all wrong, but he had answers for everything, so maybe it really was okay.
"Hey, Josh," Pete tapped him on the arm, "I forgot to get soda water. Run and grab a few bottles while I wait in line, okay?" Josh hurried toward the back of the store where the drinks were. As he turned the corner, he stopped short as he saw a tough, rowdy-looking kid staring straight at him.
He felt scared at first, but then he started to laugh with relief when he realized it was only a display mirror and he was looking at his own reflection! He hadn't recognized himself in his new 'look.'
But as Josh was laughing, he also started to think. Was this really the way he wanted to look - like the kind of kid that regular kids get scared of? Was this really the way he wanted to act - using people's money and staying in their house without permission and getting involved with wild parties doing who knows what? Was this really they way he wanted to spend his summer vacation? He knew the answer to all the questions at once.
Josh picked out the drinks like Pete had asked, minus one bottle. Pete wouldn't need as much as he thought since Josh was taking the next bus straight home.
Q. How did Josh feel at first when Pete asked him to change into different clothing and act differently?
A. He felt that maybe it was okay, since everyone else was dressing and acting like that.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt that it wasn't right - even if it was what others were doing.
Q. What life lesson do you think Josh learned from his trip to Pete's new home?
A. Deep down we all have ethical values and an inner understanding of what's right and wrong. Sometimes when we're around people who act improperly and make excuses why it's okay, we can start to believe them and even be like them. Josh learned to see through their falsehood and stand strong and stick to his inner values.
Q. Do you think Josh made the right decision to leave and give up having a summer at the beach? Why or why not?
A. While he might have lost out on part of his vacation, Josh gained much more. His decision to not stay around people who were likely to make him compromise his values was the type of character-building decision that would set him on the path to a meaningful and successful life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. If we each have true and healthy values imbedded deeply in our character, why do you think some people distort these?
A. While each of us does have a deep knowledge of true, healthy values within us, there are many factors which tend to obscure this knowledge. People can have various personal agendas and motivations (often which they are not even consciously aware of) that influence them to ignore the truth they know inside. Also, people fall under the influence of advertising and media programming, the prevalent message of which is unfortunately often diametrically opposed to healthy ethical values.
Q. Our sages teach that it's unfortunate merely to live in proximity to someone with distorted values. Why do you think this is?
A. It is human nature to be influenced by the values of those around us. Since our values determine our character, which determines the quality and success of our lives in the ultimate sense, we have a lot at stake depending on the values of the people around us.