There's nothing wrong with being different from the crowd. In this week's Torah portion (23:9), the Jewish people are told that their values and world role are often going to set them apart from the crowd. We can learn from here to accept people who seem 'different' (even if that person is us).
In our story, some kids discover that it's possible to see being different in a different light.
THE RIGHT FIELD
"Mason, you'll take right-field, okay? But pay attention!" barked Jim, the captain of the junior-division camp softball team, at the skinny boy.
Mason shrugged and slowly ambled to the outfield. He knew they always stuck him in right field because it was the place the other team was least likely to hit the ball. But Mason didn't mind. He was only even playing in this softball game because he had to - it was a mandatory camp activity.
Unlike the rest of the guys in his bunk, who seemed to love all competitive sports, Mason found these kinds of games to be pointless and boring. He liked things like arts and crafts, canoeing (as long as they didn't make him race) and most of all, just exploring and enjoying the beauty of nature.
Of course it could cause him problems - like during last week's softball game, when he was so busy checking out all the interesting looking plants and insects by the edge of the right-field fence that he hadn't even noticed that someone had hit a ball his way. Since then had been really teasing him for being so different; calling him 'weird' and 'space case.'
Though it hurt his feelings, there wasn't much Mason could do about it. It wasn't like he wanted to be different. He just was different. Well at least tomorrow's all-day hike would take off some of the pressure. After all, there was nothing competitive about walking through the woods...
AT LEAST THAT'S WHAT MASON THOUGHT...
"Okay, guys! Whoever gets to the top of the next hill first is the man! Let's gooooo!" Jim yelled out and began to charge, with the rest of the guys racing behind ... except for one.
"Ughh!" Mason groaned. "Why does that kid have to turn everything into some sort of war-game?"
When he finally got to the top of the hill, which had a beautiful view, Mason found that the guys had all spread out and were eating their boxed lunches, and the counselor was lying down on the grass, passing out.
He grabbed his lunch and started to relax, taking in the amazing scenery. It was so nice and calm up here and even Jim wouldn't be nuts enough to jump up and declare a lunch-eating race! Mason took a bite out of his sandwich, when a voice boomed out:
"Boys, we've got a big surprise for you!" the counselor suddenly stood up and smiled. "To help make this hike more 'interesting', before you got here, I hid nine silver tickets - and one gold one..."
All the kids started perking up, as he went on. "Whoever finds a silver ticket, gets a free double-dip ice-cream cone from the camp canteen. And whoever finds the gold one..." he paused... "gets a free ice-cream every night of the WHOLE SUMMER!"
Immediately the calm forest clearing turned into a beehive of activity as the guys all jumped up from their half eaten lunches and started to turn the place upside-down - lifting rocks, climbing trees, combing through the grass - in fierce competition to find the coupons.
Here we go again. Mason sighed and walked over to the edge of the clearing. Just when I was starting to have a good time - and now this!
Trying to stay clear of the frenetic activity around him, Mason leaned over to get a better look at some beautiful orange tiger-lily flowers. He had just brought one to his nose to smell, when he heard a voice behind him:
"Hey, weirdo, haven't you got something better to do with your life than waste it smelling flowers?" It was Jim. "Get a life, man..."
Mason wished the kid would just leave him alone. He was just being who he was. As he was trying to ignore the boy's stinging comments Mason noticed something shiny at the base of the flower he'd been smelling.
"Unless you wake up and start being like everyone else," Jim said, "you're gonna spend you whole life as a loser!"
Mason turned around and said, "Or maybe you mean ... a winner." He smiled, waving the shiny, gold grand-prize coupon he'd just found in front of the boy's shocked eyes.
Q. How did Mason feel about the types of games the other kids liked to play?
A. He didn't like them and enjoyed doing different things.
Q. Is it bad not to be like everyone else?
A. No. A person should try to be happy with the way God made him.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. Everyone is unique. Some people, though, tend to stand out as 'different' from the people around them. We should know that whoever we are, we are that way because that's how God made us and that's fine.
Q. Does that mean a person should never try to change?
A. If there are things about us that are destructive to ourselves or others, or that go against our true values, we should try to change and improve. But besides from this we should accept ourselves and try to make the most of who we are.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is it a value to go along with the crowd? Is it a value not to?
A. It depends on what the 'crowd' is doing. If they are doing something positive - why not go along? If they are doing something negative - stand apart. And if it's neither, then we can do what feels right.
Q. What do you think the Torah means when it says the Jewish people are to "dwell alone "?
A. Like every people, the Jewish People has its special role in the world. Our role is to live an especially ethical and spiritual life according to the values of the Torah, and serve as an example to help the rest of the world move closer to peace and spirituality. There are times that this role will make it necessary to stay apart from certain activities that run counter to it -thus 'dwelling' alone.