Gaining Self Respect
Even though it might seem like fun, it's not right to do things purposely that are disgusting or gross. This week's Torah portion teaches us that we should have enough self-respect to act in a respectable way.
In our story, a kid learns that the way to get respect is to act respectably.
Mike grinned widely as he watched the group of little kids run away, screaming at the top of their lungs.
"He doesn't really bite!" he called after them, as he dangled the snake he was holding by his tail. "I was only kidding about him being poisonous! Why'd you get so upset?"
Mike walked back to the classroom and put the snake back in his cage where it belonged. He got a charge out of impressing people by doing things other people were too squeamish to do. After that bit of fun, he headed out to the playground to enjoy the rest of recess.
On his way out, he saw a big spider climbing up the doorframe, and a good idea crossed his mind. He plucked the spider off the wall and stuck him in his pocket."Who dares me to eat what I have in my pocket?" he asked, as he walked up to a group of his classmates.
"Whatcha got this time?" asked Tony. "I'm not parting with my hard-earned money to watch you eat crackers, you know!"
The other guys laughed. Mike looked a little offended.
"What I have in my pocket, it takes guts to eat." He pulled out the spider and watched the boys' eyes pop open in surprise.
"I'd pay 50 cents to see that," said Tony.
"I'd even pay a buck!" said Steve.
"It's worth much more than that!" said Mike. "Ten dollars is the lowest I'll go."
"Ahh, no way," the guys jeered. "I could already go to a professional freak show for that kind of money."
"Freak show!" said Mike. "Are you calling me a freak?! Not one of you would dare do it!"
"Why should we?" laughed Tony.
"To show you have the guts. Like me!"
"Like you? You think eating a spider shows how much guts you have?" Tony started laughing hysterically. "It just shows how little brains you have! Spiders are totally gross!" (and prohibited to eat according to the Torah -ed.)
"Why you ... I oughta punch you out!" Mike clenched his fists and got ready to swing, but stopped himself at the last minute. "What's the point ... you guys really stink," he said instead, and walked away.
At the far side of the playground, Mike sat with his head down. When he had closed his fists to punch Tony, he'd accidentally squashed the spider in his hand, and he looked at it now, and felt kind of bad about it. The truth was, he liked little animals, and didn't really want to hurt them. As he was thinking about that, a kid walked over to him and sat down next to him.
"Hi," he said.
Mike grunted at him.
"Don't grunt like that. It's not nice. But I'm really glad you didn't eat that spider."
"But how else am I supposed to get some respect?" Mike felt strangely comfortable talking with this smart boy two grades younger than him.
"I respect you."
"You? Why should you respect me? And what do I care anyway?"
"Don't say that. It's not nice. But you know why? Not because you were going to eat the spider."
"No? Then why?"
"Because I saw how you walked away from Tony and didn't punch him in the nose like you wanted to. That took real strength. Forget the spiders and gross-out things like that, Mike. You're too good for that. Just respect yourself and you'll get all the respect you deserve."
"You bet! Wanna see the baby mice we have in our classroom? I'm in charge. You can hold them, but you have to be real gentle, they're really tiny."
"Yeah?! Okay. I'll be careful..."
As he was playing with them, those kids from the playground walked by.
"Hey, Mike, kill one of those and I'll give you your ten bucks. Okay?" Steve called out.
Mike was about to take him up on it, then thought of what the kid had said. "Sorry, guys. I have too much respect for life to do that." And too much respect for myself, he thought to himself.
Q. How did Mike feel at first about doing disgusting things?
A. He felt it was cool and made people respect him.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt that people would respect him more if he showed how he respected himself by not doing these things.
Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. We all want to be liked and respected. Like Mike, we might think that by doing wild or outrageous things we'll get that. But the truth is that people deep-down only respect those who respect themselves, by acting respectably.
Q. What exactly is wrong with doing disgusting things?
A. Each of us is a very special and unique soul, made and loved by God and worthy of self-respect. Doing disgusting things lowers our esteem in our eyes and others.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that people are made in God's image. What do you think that means and what might it have to do with acting respectably?
A. The human being is the pinnacle of creation. We are the only beings God made, either physical or spiritual, to whom He gave free will. When we choose to use our free will to act respectably we bring more Godliness into our lives and the world.
Q. Acting outrageously may give a person a lot of attention, but do you think it also gives them respect?
A. Even if it seems people approve of the way he or she is acting, it is likely only an external type of approval. People, deep down, have much more respect for those who are in control and act with self-respect.