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Ki Tisa(Exodus 30:11-34:35)

Having Mercy


Mercy means being kind and willing to help others. In this week's Torah portion we learn about the great mercy God has for each of us. God taught Moses about mercy on Mt. Sinai, when He gave us a second chance and a second set of tablets of the 'Ten Commandments' that we really didn't deserve. Our sages teach that one of the most basic and important traits of a good Jew is to be merciful.

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In our story, a kid discovers mercy that he never knew he had.

"MERCY, ME?"

"Have a good day now, Mrs. Birnbaum."

"Thanks, Mr. Woodman. You too."

As she turned to go, Mrs. Birnbaum examined her sales slip. "I think you made a mistake," she said. "It says on the sign that the yellow cheese is almost twice as much per pound than you charged me."

"Special sale just today, Ma'am. You picked the right day to go shopping."

"Oh how wonderful! Now I can go buy my Sammy new shoes for school."

"You go right ahead and do that. Bye now."

Mike waited until Mrs. Birnbaum left the store, then turned to Mr. Woodman with a puzzled stare. "I didn't know there was a sale today, Mr. Woodman."

"It was a special one-day, one-person sale, Mike. Only one person was eligible for it, and that was Mrs. Birnbaum. Sale's over now. Back to work."

"Mr. Woodman, every day you have a different story. One day it's a Groundhog Day Special. Next day it's an Inventory Clearance. Why do you do that? Your prices are already good. Why don't you just make people pay for what they buy?"

Mr. Woodman kept his head down toward the cash register, counting the change that was sitting in the drawer.

"How long you been in the shop-keeping business, Mike?"

"In the business? I'm just the after-school delivery boy and the bag packer. You hired me two weeks ago."

"Two whole weeks, huh? I've been in this business a bit longer than that, and if I've learned nothing else, I've learned that people need their store almost as much as their store needs them."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that sometimes, it's what's in the fridge or in the pantry that can keep a family going when nothing else is quite working. A good shopkeeper has to know his customer inside and out. Not just what they buy. He has to know what they need, and be able to supply it. And sometimes, Mike, some folks are struggling real hard and need a little break. A little mercy."

"Well if it was my store, I'd have no mercy. I'd post a big sign: 'CAN'T PAY? THEN PUT IT AWAY.' This is a business, not a charity organization."

"Mmm hmm," Mr. Woodman nodded his head and said no more.

A little later, Mike was sitting out in back of the store, sipping a Coke that he took out of the refrigerator in the store. Mr. Woodman was really nice about letting his workers take a cold drink and a little something to eat while on their break. He called it a good investment.

'What a pushover,' Mike thought, taking a bite of the delicious muffin he'd taken from the bakery section. Suddenly he heard a tiny mewing sound coming from underneath the steps where he was sitting. He leaned over to investigate and found himself eye to eye with three little kittens huddled together in the dark space, meowing for all they were worth.

"Hey Kitty," he crooned. "Here Kitty." Quickly he took a piece off of the muffin and started to crumble it between his fingers to soften it. He spread the crumbs onto the palm of his hand and held it out ever so gently for the kittens to take. When they wouldn't come, he took each little crumb and put it right into their tiny mouths. "Wow, they must be starving," he said to himself, but a little bit out loud.

Suddenly he saw a shadow looming over him. "What do you think you're doing, Mike?" Mr. Woodman asked sternly, arms folded stiffly across his chest.

"I'm just giving them a little something to eat. They're hungry!"

"So what? They didn't pay! That's my muffin they're eating from, and they didn't pay for it! Quit feeding them!"

"But...But..." Mike was totally bewildered. "They're starving! Can't you feel a little sorry for them?"

To Mike's surprise, Mr. Woodman's stern expression dissolved into a huge grin. "Seems to me you have a bit more mercy in you than we previously thought."

Chagrined, Mike leaned over and gave the kittens a few more crumbs. "You just might be right, Mr. Woodman. I guess a little mercy can go a long way."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Mike feel at first about his boss being merciful?
A. He felt that a person shouldn't be.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw just like he had mercy on the kittens, it was good to be merciful to others too.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Mike might have learned from what happened that day?
A. When he saw his employer giving people discounts out of mercy, he thought he was acting foolishly. But once he experienced merciful feelings for the hungry kittens, he realized how important a little mercy can be.

Q. Do you think there is ever a time when we shouldn't be merciful?
A. Mercy is a great and important trait, but there are exceptions. For instance, if showing mercy to someone would endanger ourselves, or anyone else, then we shouldn't.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our sages teach the world could not exist without the trait of mercy. How do you understand that?
A. A merciless world would very soon consume itself in cruelty and strife. For instance, parents care for helpless babies and young children out of mercy. Hospitals treat the sick out of mercy, etc. In a larger sense, the whole basis of life is God's act of mercy. No one really deserves life or anything else. It is only in God's mercy that we have anything at all.

Q. Our sages also teach, that if a person is merciful when he's shouldn't be, he will come to not be merciful when he should be. How do you think that works?
A. For instance, if a judge, or a society refuses to jail or otherwise mete out strict justice to murderers and other dangerous criminals, out of mercy-it is in essence committing an act of cruelty to the victims, past and future, of the their crimes. Mercy is a wonderful trait, but like all traits it must be used in balance and with the bigger picture in mind.


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Published: March 3, 2007

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