Selfishness is a trait to avoid. In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the cruel and wicked city of Sodom. They were so selfish that it was against the law to give charity to the poor - and in the end the city was destroyed. We can learn from this how negative selfish behavior is.
In our story, a kid sees where selfishness can lead.
Kenny chomped into one of the crispy-chewy chocolate chip cookies his mom had packed for him as the bus slowed down and pulled off the highway into the parking lot. After a lot of delays, they'd finally reached the restaurant that he and his class were stopping off at for lunch as part of their class trip.
He slung his treat-filled knapsack over his shoulder as he and the rest of the kids piled out of the bus. But they didn't go very far when their teacher turned and started waving his arms at them like a policeman at an intersection.
"Back on the bus guys!" he said. "There was a little mix-up. Seems the restaurant is closed for renovations, so we've got to drive a bit more to get to another one."
The class let out a groan, and Kenny, who was still casually munching on his cookie, suddenly felt several pairs of eyes turn his way.
"Kenny, you've still got stuff. How about giving me a cookie or two, just to tide me over 'til we get to the new restaurant?" Joe asked, holding his hand out.
"Yeah man, can you share some of your stuff?" Brad added "It's gonna be forever until we get there."
"Forget it!" Kenny snapped back, gripping his knapsack tight to his chest. "This is my stash. If you guys didn't bring stuff, that's not my problem!"
The truth was he probably had enough stuff to give them and just about the whole class, too, between what his mom gave him and the 'extra' stuff he'd picked up at the store on his way to school. But Kenny's motto was 'neither lender nor borrower be.' And what was his, was going to stay his.
He thought he successfully fended off all the beggars when Jimmy, a quiet kid he barely knew and who was absent from school a lot, shuffled up to him.
"Um, Kenny, right? I'm sorry to bother you," he said shyly.
Kenny, who had a feeling what was coming, crossed his arms as the boy went on.
"But I'm, um, not feeling so good right now. I didn't pack enough food and if I don't eat something right away, I could get very sick. C-could you please give me one of your cookies?"
Of all the nerve, Kenny thought. Here's a kid I barely know begging me for food and pretending to be sick as a way of getting it too!
"I'm sorry, but I really don't have enough to share," Kenny said curtly and turned away from the kid.
Suddenly he heard a strange thud and then some screams and yelling. He looked and saw that Jimmy had fainted and was laying flat on the ground!
Before he knew what was happening, Kenny saw a man rush toward the collapsed boy, read some bracelet or something on his wrist and give him a shot from a hypodermic needle he'd taken out of his bag.
The class watched tensely as Jimmy slowly stirred.
"Lucky I was here!" the man, who was an emergency medic, huffed to the gathered crowd of kids. "He'll be okay now. But without that shot I just gave him, that boy's condition can be critical if he goes too long between meals. I wonder why he just didn't eat something though before it happened?" he said half to himself, as he packed his things to go.
Kenny knew why, though he was embarrassed to say. Why had I been so selfish and not just shared?
"Okay, excitement's over!" the teacher, who was helping Jimmy to his feet called out. "Everyone back on the bus! We'll be eating sooner than you think."
And it was even sooner than that, since Kenny made sure to offer his snacks to share with anyone who wanted.
Q. How did Kenny feel about sharing at first?
A. He didn't want to or feel like he should.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like it was selfish not to share what he had.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Kenny learned that day?
A. He hadn't thought that he was under any obligation to share his things and selfishness was simply good sense. However. seeing that his selfishness had led him, albeit accidentally, to put someone else in danger, made him rethink his ways and become more generous.
Q. Do you think Kenny would have been responsible if Jimmy hadn't been rescued and something really bad had happened?
A. Although he shouldn't have acted so selfishly, Kenny didn't realize how much Jimmy really needed the food. So strictly speaking, he wouldn't be responsible.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think selfishness can lead to cruelty?
A. It can and it does. A selfish person or society can easily find rationalizations to cruelly ignore others' legitimate requests for assistance.
Q. Our sages equate the attitude of 'what's mine is mine - and what's yours is yours' with the wickedness of Sodom. How do you understand this idea?
A. While on the surface, this attitude seems, if not philanthropic, at least fair and practical, in truth God wants us all to be givers, and patently refusing to give of oneself and one's property is an extremely negative attitude.