Teaching By Example
Chanukah is known as the festival of light. On Chanukah a great miracle occurred. The menorah oil-lamp in our Holy Temple, which had only enough oil to last one day, shined its light for eight days! In our tradition 'light' represents Torah and spirituality and 'darkness' represents a lack of Torah and spirituality. A message we can think of as we light the Chanukah candles is that when we're surrounded by the darkness of people acting wrongly, we needn't fight against them and their dark behavior - but rather by simply acting properly ourselves, we will set an example that will shine light into the world and inspire others to follow.
In our story, some kids see how much 'light' being a proper example can shine.
TURNING ON THE LIGHT
"I've got it ..." Steve backpedaled to catch the high, spiraling football his friend, Jon had lobbed his way. "I've got it ... I've got it ... yuck!!!" the boy groaned, realizing he'd stepped on a paper bag filled with greasy food trash somebody had dumped on the public playground.
"That's gross!" Steve declared. "There's garbage everywhere. How can people just trash this place like this?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Jon agreed. "The mess really takes the fun out of being here. I wish ... " Even as he was speaking, a kid sipping a soda walked by and casually tossed his empty can just feet from where they were standing and continued merrily on his way.
The two boys stared at each other, amazed.
"Enough is enough!" Steve steamed. "I'm gonna change things around here, starting now!"
"What are you going to do?"
"What am I gonna do? I'm gonna go scream at that kid to pick up his mess!"
But Jon dismissively waived his hand. "It won't work," he said.
"Wanna bet?" said Steve. "If the kid doesn't pick it up, I'm gonna make sure he wears it as a hat!"
"No, what I mean," Jon went on, "is that screaming at people will only make the situation worse. Even if the kid does pick it up this time - he'll go out of his way to do the same thing tomorrow, when you're not looking."
"So what do you suggest," Steve asked, flailing his hands. "Do nothing and allow this playground, this whole neighborhood, to stay one big, disgusting mess?"
"Not at all," Jon said. "I'm all for action. Just that it's Chanukah-time now. You know, a time of light. So how about instead of fighting the darkness of people's bad trash habits, we'll add some light instead?" With that, he bent down, picked up a candy-wrapper, three cigarette butts and a doll's head, and carried them over to the nearby - practically unused - trash can.
"There. The playground's a little cleaner," he smiled, wiping his hands. "Let's go get some more."
Steve stood with his arms folded, watching Jon - who had fashioned a makeshift trash picker-upper from an abandoned board with a nail sticking out of it - go around the park, snapping up trash and dumping it in an empty plastic bag he'd found. He thought Jon had gone nuts, but soon - he didn't know why, but the kid's enthusiasm was contagious and Steve too grabbed a similar board and began his own rounds.
They were too busy to notice, but soon a small group of kids had gathered around to watch the unusual sight of people cleaning up a mess instead of adding to it.
"You're welcome to join us in 'Project Light,'" Jon beckoned them with a friendly wave.
It wasn't long before the spectators turned into participants. One kid had run home to get trash bags, another gave out rubber gloves. Even the kid who had tossed out the soda can had joined in.
Soon 'Project Light' spread beyond the park into the neighborhood sidewalks and alleyways and by the end of the afternoon, the kids and the smiling grateful adults, could hardly recognize their newly-cleaned neighborhood.
"We'd better get home. It's getting dark out and we have to light Chanukah candles," said a tired, but happy, Jon.
"Hey, right," smiled Steve. "I hadn't even noticed it was getting dark outside since, thanks to you, we've been adding so much light."
Q. How did Steve feel about the trash problem at first?
A. He wanted to yell at the kid who littered.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how it was better to try to set an example rather than to fight.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from what happened?
A. When we confront a negative situation - like the trashed-out playground - our first reaction might be to lash out angrily and try to make people change their behavior. But more often than not, we'll find that setting a good example will change people more than a thousand lectures or threats.
Q. Why do you think that is?
A. Most people, deep down, want to do what's right. When they do something wrong, they usually know it and if someone confronts them over it, the natural reaction is to feel embarrassed and defend what they did - certainly not change. But when someone shows by his actions and not just words, in a positive way the right way to behave, most people will become positively influenced and eventually change their behavior.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is there ever a time when 'fighting the darkness' - confronting a bad situation head-on - is more appropriate than 'adding light' by setting a good example?
A. There are times - when something so destructive is taking place - that there is no ethical choice other than to try to stop it. However, we should know that even in such cases, it is just a 'band-aid' - a temporary solution. If we want the situation to improve in the long term, we will have to patiently and consistently model proper values and actions.
Q. Why do you think positive values are referred to as 'light' and negative ones 'darkness?'
A. When a person understands himself and his job in this world, he cannot help but behave in the proper way. It is only the cover-up, the dark cloud of confusion, that causes us to make destructive choices. Therefore, turning on the 'light,' so to speak, and clearly seeing reality, is all we need to do to begin to live in the positive way we should.