How We Treat Others
In this week's Torah portion we find what our sages call the most important message of the entire Torah: "You shall love your fellow as yourself..." Here God gives us a simple yet amazingly powerful guideline how to act with each other, that if followed would ensure a happy life and transform the world: If we wouldn't want someone to do it to us - don't do it to him.
In our story, a kid finds out that how others treat us has a lot to do with how we treat them.
"You just wait - I'm telling mom and you're both going to get it!" With tears rolling down his red face, Eddie stomped out of the room.
Even before he opened his mouth, his mom knew what was about to come out.
"Punish them!" he cried. "They're hurting me again!"
His mom gave him one of her big 'I love you' hugs, which already made him feel a lot better, but he still felt like he had to go on.
"F ... f ... first Brad took my stuff and then Dana kicked me!" he sobbed.
"Ouch! That really sounds like it was awful for you," she said, nodding her head sympathetically.
Eddie smiled inside, certain his mom was going to really give it to them this time. Even though he would prefer a firing squad or at least 50 lashes, he was ready to settle for her grounding both of them for a week.
"You know, Eddie, that I can't really punish until I hear both sides of the story. Did you do something to them?"
"Me? Nothing!" he insisted. "It's all their fault."
"Okay, you stay here and I'll go try to sort this out." She went up to the playroom and a few minutes later when she came back, Eddie was waiting for her.
"Well, did you punish them good?"
His mom shook her head. "Well, Eddie, Brad said you had traded with him, and Dana said you called her a nasty name and kicked her first."
"But that's a lie ... I didn't really kick, at least not as hard as Dana did, and..."
"Listen Eddie - I'm sorry, I wasn't there, and I can't know for sure what happened."
"It's not fair!" He started to storm out of the room, when his mom went on.
"But I do know of a very interesting experiment you might want to try that might make you feel a lot better." Eddie always loved experiments, and stopped in his tracks and looked at her.
"It's called the 'H.W.I.F. - 'How Would I Feel' experiment. Interested?"
Eddie shrugged his shoulders in a way his mom knew meant, 'okay.'
"It's real easy. For the 24 hours, before you do or say anything to them, ask yourself 'How would I feel if someone did or said that to me?' and if the answer is 'bad', then don't do it. And ... here's a jumbo chocolate chip cookie to give you energy to start you experiment. How's it sound?"
"Okay, I guess," he said, taking the cookie. "But what does that have to do with the fact that they're always hurting me?"
"That's part two of the experiment, Eddie. One thing at a time. By the way, there are two more cookies waiting for you when you report back to me tomorrow with the results. Good luck!"
Eddie didn't really know what this experiment thing was about, but the cookie tasted good and it seemed like something interesting to do for a while. He was walking past the playroom on the way to his room, when his sister, who was building a big Lego castle, called out:
"So did the baby have fun tattling?"
Eddie was about to go smash the castle just to show her, when he remembered his H.W.I.F. experiment. He thought to himself: 'How Would I Feel if someone smashed something I was making?'
As much as he hated to admit it, the answer was definitely 'bad.' Castle-smashing was out, so he decided instead to settle for just calling her 'fat-face' when again H.W.I.F. kicked in - 'I would definitely feel bad if someone called me a name like that. No choice but to just walk by,' he told himself and that's exactly what he did, not even noticing how surprised he'd made his sister, who was bracing for a big fight.
When he got to his room, his brother, Brad, was lying down reading one of Eddie's newest comic books. They did agree to share them, but Eddie knew that if he said he wanted to read that one now, even though he'd really already finished it, the rule was that Brad had to give it to him.
"Ahem, sorry, Brad, but that comic book you're reading..."
"Yeah?" said his brother, with an upset look like he knew what was coming. Eddie was about to demand the book, when the letters H.W.I.F. popped into his head, and he remembered his experiment.
'Let's see - How Would I Feel if I was in the middle of reading one of his comic books and he made me give it back? Bad, for sure.'
"Um, never mind, Brad. Just put it back when you're done, okay?"
"Sure, no problem," he answered with a relieved smile. "I've got a new one in the drawer, if you want to check it out," he added.
Eddie happily grabbed it, surprised that his brother offered it to him just like that. Usually he had to snoop around to find them. He wondered if it had anything to do with the experiment. He'd have to report it to mom and see.
And so the day went on. Eddie was super careful to H.W.I.F. before he did or said anything and he couldn't help noticing that it was the first day he could remember ever that he and his brother or sister didn't get into a fight. Maybe the way he had been acting had something to do with the fights after all. Maybe H.W.I.F. would also help with the kids who were bothering him at school.
"Well how did the experiment go?" asked his mom when he came downstairs the next morning, as she handed him his two promised cookies.
"Great!" the boy smiled. "I'll tell you all about it. But first, do you think I could have just one more cookie? I want to share them with Dana and Brad."
"Sure," smiled his mom, who now already knew even before the boy gave his report that the experiment had been a great success.
Q. How did Eddie feel about his brother and sister at first?
A. He felt like they were picking on him for no reason.
Q. How did he feel after his experiment?
A. He was much happier because he didn't get into fights and saw that when he treated his brother and sister more nicely, they treated him more nicely too.
Something To Try: Today, at least one time before doing something to someone, ask yourself, "How would I feel if he did that to me?" and if the answer is "Bad," then don't do it.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Eddie learned that day?
A. He'd been under the impression that he was getting picked on for no reason and he'd been acting perfectly fine to his siblings. By doing H.W.I.F. and not doing anything to them that he wouldn't want them to do to him, he discovered that he sometimes did do not nice things to them and when he stopped they started to be nicer too.
Q. If Eddie's brother and sister didn't treat him more nicely in spite of his experiment, do you think it would have been a failure? Why or Why not?
A. Not doing to others what we wouldn't want them to do to us, is a rule to live by and the most important key to being a good person. No matter how his siblings responded, he would have won. But experience shows that almost always when we treat others better, they treat us better too.
Spiritual Exercise: Today, at least one time when you are thinking of saying or doing something to someone, and you're not sure if it's right, ask yourself 'How Would I Feel (H.W.I.F) if he did that to me?' and if the answer is 'Bad' or anything negative, don't do or say it.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that 'not doing to others what we wouldn't want them to do to us' is the basis of the Torah and the key to spiritual greatness. Why do you think it is considered so important?
A. God gave us the Torah to bring ourselves and the world to happiness and spiritual perfection. This can only happen when people are at peace and harmony with one another. If we all treated each other with the care and consideration we want for ourselves, we would instantly achieve genuine world peace.
Q. Why do you think the Torah defines 'loving one another' as acting toward them in a specific way instead of as a feeling of love?
A. Loving feelings are precious, but they are not enough to change the world. To feel love toward a homeless person on the street as you walk past him is not the same as helping him get back on his feet. True love is something that permeates a person through and through - our thoughts, feelings, and our actions.
Spiritual Exercise: Today, at least one time when you are thinking of saying or doing something to someone, and you're not sure if it's right, ask yourself 'How Would I Feel (H.W.I.F) if they said or did that to me?' and if the answer is 'Bad' or anything negative, don't do or say it.