We all know not to get too near someone who is ill with something contagious. We should also be careful to keep our distance from people with unhealthy behavior or values - since these things can be 'contagious' too. In this week's Torah portion we see how people who came down with the disease of tzara'at, which came as a result of bad behavior, had to be quarantined until they were cured of both the disease, and the bad behavior that caused it.
In our story, a kid gets exposed to some unhealthy behavior she hopes she won't 'catch.'
Debby Green was new to the neighborhood. So when Paula, a kid from down the block, invited her over her house to play one Sunday afternoon, she'd happily accepted.
"This is my sticker collection," Paula said, holding out a thick loose-leaf binder. "These furry ones over here are from the zoo and these..."
"Paula ... Paula..."
Debby heard a weak sounding voice calling her friend from the next room. Apparently, Paula hadn't, since she kept on playing as before.
"...and these big, colorful ones are from my trip to Disney World." she smiled.
"Paula ... please come. I need you!" pleaded the voice, this time slightly louder. But the girl continued to ignore it.
"And these glow in the dark stickers here..."
"Um, Paula," Debby cut in, "do you know that someone's calling you from the next room?"
"That? It's just my grandmother being a pain," the girl shrugged. "Here, let me show you the ones I got..."
"But she sounds like she's in trouble or something," Debby said, concerned.
"She's like, sick in bed, you know. My Mom usually takes care of her. But she went out to the drug store. Why should I get stuck having to do it while she's gone?" She tossed her hair back. "I've got a great idea. You wanna hear the new greatest hits CD I just got?"
"Paula ... p ... please help me. I just need ... ugh ... to take my pain pill now..."
"You know, I really don't mind at all waiting while you go and help her," Debby said uneasily. "It sounds like she really needs you."
"Too bad!" Paula waved her off, now looking annoyed. "It's not my problem. Besides, if we turn the music up loud enough, she'll stop buggin' us - or even if she tries to..." Paula chuckled slyly "...we won't hear it."
"It hurts ... it hurts. Please..."
And so it went on. The elderly woman in the next room periodically crying for help and Paula either ignoring her completely or making some mean, sarcastic comment about it to Debby while continuing to play.
After a while, Debby just couldn't stand it any more. How could someone be so cruel - to her own grandmother, no less? This wasn't the kind of kid she wanted as a friend.
"You know, Paula, I think I really have to go now," Debby said, standing up.
"But why? You just barely got here."
"I just don't feel comfortable, you know, playing, while your grandmother's feeling so bad in the next room."
"Really? Why? Are you worried about it being contagious?"
"Um, yeah. Something like that," Debby said. Worried about your terrible behavior being contagious, and rubbing off on me, that it - she thought.
"Well, from what my mom said, it isn't anything contagious. But I suppose I can't blame you for wanting to be extra careful."
Yeah, Debby thought as she walked out, extra careful to choose friends who knew how to behave and how to care.
Q. How did Paula feel when her ill grandmother needed her?
A. She didn't care and refused to help.
Q. How did this make Debby feel?
A. It made her feel like she didn't want to be friends with someone who acted so mean.
Q. What life-lesson could someone learn from this story?
A. We are affected by the values and behavior of the people around us. Just like we should be careful to stay away from contagious diseases, we should be careful not to choose friend with 'contagious' bad behavior.
Q. Do you think good behavior can be 'contagious' too?
A. Absolutely. When we act the right way, we can have a positive effect on the people around us - and the whole world.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What do you think a person should look for in choosing a friend?
A. Obviously, someone we enjoy spending time with. But even more importantly, we should focus on finding someone with positive values, who we can grow with together into better, kinder people.
Q. What do you think the term 'spiritual health' means?
A. Each of us has both a body and a soul. Just like some things are healthy for the body and others aren't - so to some things are healthy for the soul, or the opposite. The Torah is full of wisdom and advice geared to help a person reach tip-top spiritual health.