A wise person doesn't judge people or things by the way they first appear. In this week's Torah portion, we learn how the Jewish priests, the Cohanim, wouldn't judge whether a person had a spiritual malady called tzara'at until they had examined him twice. We can learn from this that one should be willing to give people and situations a 'second look' before passing judgment about them.
In our story, a kid has to decide whether or not to give someone a second look and a second chance.
A FAIR HEARING
I don't know why, but I sort of took it on myself to be the neighborhood 'welcoming committee.' Whenever a new kid moves in and shows up on the scene, I make the effort to say 'hello' and help her blend in with the crowd.
So it really wasn't unusual for me to go up to this new kid, Allison, (I asked one of the teachers what her name was) and give her one of my smiley 'welcome to the neighborhood' speeches.
What was unusual was how the kid reacted to me - or should I say didn't react...
"Hi Allison!" I had said to her in a loud, friendly voice, walking up to her from behind. The kid didn't say anything or even turn her head. Okay, I know some kids are the more shy, quiet type (not like me!) so I figured I'd try again.
"Welcome to the world's greatest neighborhood!" I said, in a big friendly voice - sure this time she'd turn around and smile. But she didn't even turn around and just kept on walking away from me, I think even faster than before.
Now if there is one thing I can't stand it's a snob. And this Allison kid just made it into my book as Snob #1. As far as I was concerned, she could just stay by herself forever, if that's how she wanted it. I certainly wasn't going to be the one to make her feel at home.
The next day when I saw her sitting on a bench in the playground looking really lonely, my first thought was, 'it serves her right!' After all, I gave her the chance to make a friend and she obviously didn't want to see my face.
I walked past her, about to join the gang, when - I don't know why - something about her lonely look got to me and I figured maybe she just had a bad day yesterday and what would it hurt to give her one more chance? Things aren't always the way they first look. So I walked back her way, only this time I made sure to walk straight up to her, so if she wanted to do her 'snob' thing again, she'd have to do it right to my face.
"Hi," I said, giving her a little wave. I thought she'd either turn her head or look embarrassed after yesterday, but this surprising kid surprised me once again by giving me a warm, friendly smile back and inviting me to sit down!
We traded names (I knew hers already, but it was only polite) and soon we got chatting friendly enough that I felt okay to ask her why she hadn't answered me back the day before. But before I could do that, she gave me the answer in a way that made me glad I hadn't asked...
"Oh, Debby," she said "I'm sorry, but could you please make sure you look straight at me when you talk. You see," she smiled sort of uncomfortably "I'm hearing impaired and I have to read people's lips to have any idea what they're saying and to see their faces to even know if they're talking to me at all."
Wow - that explained everything! She didn't ignore me because she was a snob or even shy. She just didn't hear or notice me because I never caught her eye!
Well, Allie and I are just about best friends now. She's a great, down to earth kid. I think a lot about how close I came to writing her off as a snob - which would have been a big shame for both of us, and how glad I am that I was smart enough to give her a second look.
Q. How did the girl in the story feel at first about the kid who didn't answer her?
A. She felt like she was acting snobby and unfriendly.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She found out that the kid hadn't heard her speaking to her and felt glad she had given her a second chance.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. Often, our first impressions of people or situations can be inaccurate. A wise person is willing to withhold judgment and give things a second look.
Q. Can we ever be sure that how we look at things is true?
A. While it's smart not to jump to conclusion and to give people and things a second look, that doesn't mean we can't understand how things are or rightfully decide that they're true. God put definite truths in the world and gave us the ability to perceive them when we honestly try.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that the proper way to relate to a new person we meet is to simultaneously respect and suspect him. What do you think this means and why might such an approach be wise?
A. When we meet someone new, we have no way of really knowing what he's about. Some people make a great first impression and turn out to be monsters, others look bad but are really good as gold. Therefore, until we know someone and are able to decide what he's truly like; respecting him gives us the chance to make a close connection, while suspecting him protects us from getting burned.
Q. Is there ever a point that we should stop giving someone 'another chance'?
A. While it's right to be patient and forgiving with people, when we see that continually giving them another chance becomes seriously destructive for us, them or others, the ethical thing to do is to say (and mean) 'no more chances.'