With All Due Respect
Although we should respect authority, that doesn't mean we can't question authority if we feel something is unfair. In this week's Torah portion we learn how a group of young women approached Moses, and the other leaders of the Jewish people because they felt they weren't being treated fairly (27:1-7). Moses presented their claim to God and He agreed with them. We can learn a lesson from these women in how to stand up for ourselves respectfully.
In our story, some kids question authority and get an interesting answer.
THE LAST STAND
After a whole morning of sports and swimming, Sarah Waldman was hungry! She ran to the camp dining hall so she'd be close to the front of the lunch line, but when she got there, she got a surprise.
A big sign was hanging on the wall that said: 'NEW OFFICIAL POLICY: MEALS WILL BE SERVED TO CAMPERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER ONLY. NO EXCEPTIONS.'
Underneath it explained how each group of campers, depending on the first letter of their last names, would be served at different times - 'A's first, etc. Of course, Sarah, with her last name starting with 'W', wasn't going to get her lunch for a long, long time.
Stomach growling, Sarah angrily plopped down on the carved log bench outside the dining hall where her friend, Debby Willis, was already sitting and sulking.
"Did you see that new policy?" Sarah sputtered.
"Yeah, it's totally unfair." Debby sighed. "Just because our names happen to start with letters at the end of the alphabet, does that mean we have to starve? But there's nothing we can do about it."
"Of course, there's something we can do about it," protested Sarah. "We can go complain and explain how unfair it is."
"Huh!" Debby huffed with a wave of her hand. "What good will that do? It said 'official policy' and rules are rules. Besides I already screamed at the server when I saw the sign and she just said 'Too bad, that's the way it is,' and turned away. How am I ever going to survive until it's our turn to eat?"
Sarah smiled. "I think we'll live," she pulled out a granola bar from her pocket and broke it in half to share, "but still it's not right and I'm going to try to change it."
Debby gratefully popped the bar in her mouth. "But didn't you hear what I said?"
"Yeah, but first of all - who said unfair rules can't be changed? And second - they're for sure not going to get changed by screaming at people. I'm just going to go very calmly explain the problem to the kitchen manager."
"The kitchen manager?" Debby shuddered. "No way! I'm afraid to even look her in the eye. She looks so big and mean that she could eat us campers for dinner."
But Sarah wasn't fazed. "Come on, let's try." The girl stood up and marched to the manager's office, Debby trailing sheepishly behind.
"Yes?" The tall woman opened the door to the girls' knock.
"Um, if possible, we'd like to talk to you about one of the kitchen rules," Sarah said respectfully, as she tried to ignore the woman's stern look.
"Well, um, now that they made a new rule that everyone gets served in alphabetical order, kids like us - you know, with last names like 'W' - are always going to get our food last. I don't think that's really fair, do you?"
Sarah held her breath and Debby looked like she was going to melt onto the floor. The woman blinked her eyes twice, and if the girls didn't know better, they saw her smile. "Come with me," the manager said.
The girls rushed to keep up with the manager's big strides as she marched toward the serving line. She called the server over to talk. "I understand the camp now serves meals in alphabetical order, is that so?" she asked.
"Yes, it makes things less hectic."
"Well from now on, I want to change that policy to something that will also not be hectic but will be fairer. Every second day you will serve in alphabetical order, from 'A' to 'Z' - and on the other days in between, you will serve in reverse alphabetical order, from 'Z' to 'A', is that clear?"
"Sure, that shouldn't be a problem at all, Mrs. Zachary."
With that, the manager gave the relieved Sarah and Debby a small wink. "With a name that starts with 'Z', I know what it's like always to be at the end of the line - and you're right!"
Q. How did Debby feel about the new way they had to get their lunch?
A. She was angry but she felt there was nothing she could do about it, except maybe scream.
Q. How did Sarah feel about it?
A. She felt it wasn't fair and that she could respectfully try to change things.
Q. What life-lesson do you think the kids in the story learned from what happened?
A. When people in authority want us to do something that doesn't seem fair, it's easy to feel like we just have to take it - or angrily rebel. But there is another, smarter choice: to stand up for ourselves in a calm, respectful way.
Q. Do you think if Sarah had gone in yelling her complaint at the manager, she would have got the same result? Why or why not?
A. Even though her point would have still been valid, it's very unlikely that she would have gotten anywhere - except maybe in trouble. People are much more willing to give us a fair hearing when we treat them with respect.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What should be a person's attitude toward authority figures?
A. People who are in authority deserve respect. However, that doesn't mean we must blindly accept whatever they say. The Torah way is not to be afraid to express our dissenting opinion, but to do it in a calm, respectful way.
Q. Is there ever a time we should disobey authority?
A. If we are told to do something that is recklessly dangerous or violates our deepest held values, there may be times we must disobey and be willing to face the consequences. However, in general, we should accept and respect legitimate authority.