Treat Everyone With Respect
When it comes to treating people with kindness and respect, there are no exceptions to the rule. In this week's Torah portion we learn that even a rich, important landowner must treat his lowliest servant with care and respect (Lev. 25:39-43). The Torah way is never to look down on or mistreat anyone.
In our story, some kids find out something new about who deserves respect.
The sidewalks were full of kids holding their collars tight and their umbrellas tighter as they trudged, slogged and scrambled their way to school beneath the spring downpour.
In the midst of all the soggy chaos, gliding gracefully along was Heather, otherwise known as the 'class Queen.'
The girl certainly deserved the title, too. Not only was she the coolest, most put-together, and good-looking kid in the class by far, but she was also a straight 'A' student.
Vicky and Jan, who counted themselves lucky enough to be Heather's best friends (or at least they wanted to be) strutted on either side of her like a pair of bookends, proud of the privilege of walking close to her.
They were wearing the same top-designer raincoat as Heather was (after all, they'd run out and bought them right after she did) and tried to carry their high-end umbrellas with the same casual flair as her, though for some reason it didn't look quite the same.
As the threesome turned the corner, they encountered a strange sight. A kid was wildly swinging her inside-out, collapsed umbrella in the wind, obviously trying - without success - to straighten it out. Her hair was a wet, flying mop and her book bag had somehow opened up and was fast spilling its contents into the puddle at her feet.
It took only a moment to realize who this unfortunate creature was - none other than Lizzy, better known to her classmates as Frizzy Lizzy, the class loser.
Vicky and Jan saw this as a perfect chance to have a little 'fun' and at the same time impress Heather at how cool and clever they were.
"Lizzy dear, I believe the rain is falling down, not up" Vicky snickered as they strode past, "I think you'd be a lot drier if you kept your umbrella over your head."
"Yes, that is of course, unless you are trying to give your hair a perm treatment - but then again it's certainly frizzy enough as it is, isn't it?" Jan added with a sharp laugh.
As they walked on and left Lizzy to her troubles, the two girls were anxious to see how much Heather must have enjoyed their clever putdowns of their lowly classmate.
"She's some loser, isn't she Heather?" Jan chuckled, turning toward her - but the girl wasn't there. "Hey Vicky, where's Heather?" she asked, stopping in her tracks.
"Maybe we didn't notice and she rushed ahead of us," Vicky responded tensely. But the pair quickly realized that wasn't so as they heard the familiar smiling voice of the class Queen behind them...
"There you go, Liz, that's everything. All the stuff is back in your bag."
Jan and Vicky couldn't believe their eyes. Heather was standing at Lizzy's side, zippering her bag for her. But their amazement only grew as the girl went on...
"But I think your umbrella's pretty totaled. Hey, you know what? I have an idea - there's plenty of room under mine. Let's share!"
As the unlikely pair - the class Queen and the now broadly-smiling class loser - began walking hand in hand, Vicky and Jan looked at each other with one thought on both their minds. While they had trying to think of ways to put the poor kid down - Heather had been finding ways to treat her with respect and care!
As they reunited, Vicky and Jan took their original place at Heather's (and Lizzy's) side. But this time they hung back a little, because they knew they had a long way to go - and a lot to learn about how to treat people - before they could ever really consider themselves close to the 'Queen.'
Q. How did Vicky and Jan feel when they first saw Lizzy struggling with her umbrella?
A. They felt that since she wasn't a popular kid it was okay to make fun of her.
Q. How did they feel after seeing how Heather treated Lizzy?
A. They felt sorry how they acted and knew that had to treat everyone - even her - nicely.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Vicky and Jan learned that day?
A. They had felt that it was all right to make fun of and put down unpopular, 'loser' type people. But when they saw how Heather, the most popular kid in the class, treated her, they realized that we should treat everyone - even people who seem lowly - with kindness and respect.
Q. Why do you think Heather - the class queen - was able to be kind to Lizzy, whereas her friends weren't?
A. A person who is genuinely great - like Heather - feels confident and good enough about herself that she doesn't need to put others down to put herself up. The other two girls, who didn't really have Heather's good qualities but merely wanted to pretend act as if they did, felt a need to boost their own self-image by knocking someone else. The sign of a great person is a kind and respectful person.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What attitude do you think could help a person treat others - especially those who seem to be 'less' than he is - with respect?
A. There are two aspects to reality. The first and more superficial is the reality we see - in which some of us are smarter, richer, better-looking, etc. than others. However, there is a coexistent deeper, spiritual reality in which each human being, each creature is equally valued and valuable as a creation of God. By focusing on this deeper reality, we will find it easier to relate to everyone and everything with deep respect.
Q. Our sages teach that 'one who acquires a servant - acquires a master.' How do you understand this statement?
A. They are teaching us that one shouldn't erroneously think that he has the right to mistreat someone under him (such as his servant). In fact, if a servant's master has only one pillow he must give it to his servant rather than himself! The Torah way is to treat all - regardless of their social station - with unconditional respect.