When we meet people who are different than us, we may feel that they are not as good as us. But this is not the Torah way. In this week's portion, our forefather, Abraham, who was a wealthy, respected prince, went out of his way to open his home and show great respect to simple desert wanderers. We can learn from his example not to look down on anyone and to treat everyone with respect, even if they are not like us.
In our story, a kid finds out that when we feel like looking down, we'd better look out.
ON THE REBOUND
Alex walked out of the lunchroom munching down a granola bar instead of his usual donut. He wanted to make sure to get as much energy as possible for the basketball tryouts that afternoon. There was going to be a new coach this year and a lot of the guys on last year's team graduated, so he felt he really had a chance to make the team.
He took his last bite, crumpled up the wrapper and tossed it toward the wastebasket at the end of the lunchroom, missing by a mile. Oh well, as long as I shoot hoops better than this later on, I'm okay, he laughed to himself and walked on.
"Hey, pick it up," he heard a gruff voice call behind him. He turned around to see a middle-aged man in coveralls. Just one of the janitors, Alex thought, as he shrugged and kept walking.
"What kind of a way is that to act? You made a mess, now you have to pick it up," the man insisted, this time more loudly.
Now Alex was starting to get ticked off. Who was this brainless janitor to tell him what to do?
"Sorry, man," he said. "That's your job, not mine. If you don't feel like doing it - too bad!" and with that, Alex dashed out to the schoolyard before the janitor could answer back, feeling cool for having put the guy in his place.
The rest of the school day went fast and Alex nearly flew to the gym after school to get to tryouts. He was one of the first guys there and when he walked into the gym, the team trainer was setting things up.
"Hi. Here for tryouts?" he asked. "Coach is in the equipment room. Go see him to sign up and then come back out and sit in the bleachers until it's time to start. Good luck!" he smiled.
Alex made sure to tuck in his shirt and puff out his chest as he walked in to make a good first impression on the new coach. He nervously knocked on the equipment room door.
"Yeah, come in," called a voice which sounded familiar to Alex, though he didn't know why. He pushed open the door and stood eye-to-eye with the janitor he had put down in the lunchroom! But why was he wearing a whistle around his neck and a baseball cap on his head? Because, Alex realized to his horror, he really wasn't a janitor - he was the new coach!!!
"You again," the man said sharply. "You came back to tell me more about my job?"
Alex, shaking, could hardly open his mouth. Finally he muttered, "I...I'm really sorry, coach. I d...didn't know who you were. I thought you were a j...janitor."
"And if I had been - so what? Does that give you an excuse to open up a wise mouth to any adult - to any human being? If you're here to try out, forget it."
"But, coach," Alex said, trying desperately to hold his ground. "I said I'm sorry. C...can't you at least wait and see how I play ball?" The man shook his head.
"I don't have to. One of the most important things in being part of a team is to have respect for everyone - whether you feel they're better than you or you're better than them. You already showed me, by the way you didn't care, that someone you considered below you would have to clean up your mess - that's a lesson you have to learn. Come back next semester if you learn it and then we'll talk, but until then, take a walk."
Walk, Alex did - with his head hanging so low that if it wasn't attached to his neck it would be rolling on the ground. Once outside he pulled out the granola bar he'd saved for after tryouts. No reason not to eat it now. He tossed the wrapper on the pavement. Then, thinking about the coach's words - bent down, picked it up and tossed it in the bin, and scored a bigger point than if he'd shot a game-winning basket.
Q. How did Alex feel at first about how he treated the man he thought was a janitor? A. He thought the man wasn't important, so it was okay. Q. How did the coach feel about it? A. He felt that you have to respect everyone whether you think they're important or not.
Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. It's easy to look down on people and judge them not worthy of respect, but the Torah way is to treat everyone respectfully.
Q. Do you think the coach should have just judged Alex on how well he played ball and not how he treated people? Why or why not?
A. A person has many parts. While it's true that someone with a lot of athletic talent may have a certain advantage, the fact that Alex hadn't learned to have a basic respect for all people would make it hard for him to succeed on the team - or in life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think one person can be more important than someone else?
A. In one sense, a person can become important based on his wisdom, talent, wealth, etc. However, on a deeper level, each and every human being has been created by God in His image and therefore is of equal, infinite importance, no matter who he may or may not be.
Q. Should one respect a person who does destructive or even terrible things?
A. In such a case, we have to separate in our minds the person's actions and his true self. His actions can be totally unworthy of respect and can even justify hatred. However, at the same time we must never lose sight of each individual's Godly essence and maintain a respect of that as a way of respecting God.