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Vayeshev(Genesis 37-40)

Don't Accuse So Fast


A person should always think twice before accusing someone of wrongdoing. In this week's Torah portion, Yehuda, one of Jacob's sons, accuses his daughter-in-law Tamar of doing something wrong. And in the end it turns out she really didn't do anything wrong. If we're not sure - we shouldn't accuse.

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In our story, a kid has to choose whether or not to accuse.

RED-HANDED

The blast of cold air hit Janet's face like a snowball as she walked out of the school building. The weather report had been right when they said the warmish morning was going to get much chillier by the afternoon.

Good thing I've got grandma's toasty, woolen mitten-gloves in my coat pocket for the walk home, she thought as her fingers had already begun to feel like the icicles hanging down from the school roof. She reached into her pocket, but instead of finding the snugly-soft red, white and blue gloves her grandmother had just given her, she found ... nothing.

Hey, what happened to my gloves? she asked herself. The answer was soon in coming. There, just a few yards away was standing that nerdy Claudia, looking as warm as Florida - and no wonder - she was wearing Janet's gloves!

"Ahem, Claudia," Janet said, walking over to her. Claudia looked her way with a blank expression on her face.

"Um, don't you think you made a little mistake?" Janet said as icily as the weather.

"Mistake? What do you mean?"

"I mean, maybe you don't think it's a big deal to steal someone's gloves - but personally, I do!"

By now, a small group of kids had gathered around them to see what was going on, and the shy Claudia was looking really embarrassed.

"But, I didn't take your gloves!" the girl protested. "These gloves are mine."

"Oh sure they are. I suppose my grandmother knit you an extra pair when she knit me mine. Give 'em back, now!"

"Yeah, thief, give 'em over!" taunted one of Janet's popular friends from among the ever-growing circle of spectators.

"Stealing is disgusting!" another kid yelled.

Claudia was now as red as the stripes on her gloves and without a word, she peeled them off her hand, shoved them at Janet and scurried away.

Serves the kid right! Janet thought.

The amused crowd, too cold to hang around, broke up and Janet also trudged home under the chilly gray sky with her hands now rightfully warm.

"Hi mom, I'm home!" Janet hollered, as she slammed her front door, leaving the cold wind behind her and tucking her gloves into her pocket.

"Oh, hi. I was so worried about you," her mother said. "Your hands must be freezing."

"What do you mean, Mom?" Janet asked confused.

"I tried to catch up with you when you forgot your gloves this morning, but I was too late."

Forgot? ... Gloves?

"But I didn't..." Janet started to object but stopped in mid-sentence as her mom waved grandma's gloves in front of her shocked face and plunked them down on the table.

"I know you didn't need to wear gloves this morning, but how did you ever manage the walk home without them? Well anyway, sit down and I'll bring you a hot cup of cinnamon tea."

Janet quickly grabbed the gloves out from her pocket. Sure enough, they were the same - almost. Instead of red fingers and a blue thumb, these had blue fingers and a red thumb! Because she'd just got them, it seems she'd made a mistake - but not nearly as big of a mistake as the one she'd made by falsely accusing and humiliating Claudia and taking her gloves!

A burn of shame flushed over Janet's face that made the hot drink unnecessary. She had some big-time apologizing to do and would think ten times from now on before ever accusing anybody again.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Janet feel when she first saw Claudia wearing gloves?
A. She felt they were hers and she had the right to accuse her of taking them.

Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt terrible she'd falsely accused her and would be much more careful about accusing people from now on.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Janet learned that day?
A. Sometimes we can feel sure that someone did something wrong and are ready to accuse them, but we should be extra careful not to falsely accuse.

Q. So what should Janet have done? Nothing?
A. She had reason to feel they were her gloves and it was okay to ask about them. But she should have made sure to have done it quietly and in private and when the girl denied it, since Janet couldn't prove it, it would have been better to have dropped the matter until she could be certain she was in the right.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. According to Jewish law, there have to be two valid, independent witnesses (and not just one) to convict someone of a crime. Why do you think that might be so?
A. One reason is that it is very easy to make a mistake. We can think we saw something, but in fact, we missed an important detail. Two independent witnesses make it less likely for such a mistake to happen. Accusing people of doing wrong is a serious matter and we should take whatever precautions we can not to falsely accuse.

Q. What should be our first reaction when we see apparent wrongdoing?
A. If it is not something dangerous that requires immediate action, we should stop and consider - is there a way to judge this person favorably? If so, we should. Of course it's a value to protect ourselves and others, but it's also a value to protect people's feelings and reputations by not accusing them of doing wrong unless we are sure.


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Published: December 13, 2008

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