When we're somewhere special, we should act special. In this week's Torah portion (Deut. 12:1) we learn about the special rules and behavior the people were to keep in God's special, holy Land of Israel. We can learn from here that when it comes to the way we act, we should remember where we are, and who we are.
In our story, some kid discover that special manners help make them special too.
Karen was looking so forward to her class last-day-of-school party - and actually enjoying it - until the gift lottery...
"Hey, move over! Let me out first!" Joey elbowed his brother, Pete.
"No way! It's bad enough that you got to sit next to the window!" Pete answered with a shove.
"Cut it out - both of you!" shrieked their sister, Cindy. "You've been wrestling the whole way and your sneakers are marking up my skirt!"
After a couple of more rounds, the kids finally piled out of the car and into the parking lot of the elegant restaurant their parents were taking them to for their grandparent's anniversary dinner.
Glittering chandeliers, soft, tinkly music and colorfully lighted indoor waterfalls made the kids feel like they'd walked into a movie-set as the smiling, uniformed waiter guided them to a comfortable booth at the far side of the carpeted dining room. He handed them each tasseled, gold-embossed parchment menus and headed back to the kitchen with a nod.
"Hey, give me some room!" Pete immediately hissed at his brother, hip-checking him across the booth's maroon leather bench.
"Shhh!" the older Joey answered, holding his finger to his lips. "We can't fight here."
"Why not?" Pete asked as Cindy looked on, curious. As far as she was concerned, her brothers could fight anywhere.
"Because they'll make us leave - that's why," Joey whispered loudly. "I know about these kinds of special fancy restaurants and they won't let kids stay here if they fight and make noise. I don't know about you, but this stuff on the menu looks de-licious and I don't want to miss out - so here..." he shifted in his seat, making more room for his astonished but pleased brother.
The meal went on and each time one of the kids started to lose it, all it took was a little 'shhh...' from his siblings to get him back in line.
"Thank you, Sir and Madame," the maitre-de smiled as he handed them back their credit card. "I must say," he added, "you have very well-behaved children" he said, handing each of them a gold foil wrapped after-dinner chocolate mint.
For the first couple of minutes in the car, the kids - maybe because they were so happily full from the meal, which had indeed been delicious, or maybe because they were just temporarily out of practice - didn't fight. But it didn't take long before Pete fired the first salvo by pulling Cindy's hair.
"OUCHHHH! Stop it!" she yelped and bopped him with the souvenir menu she was holding. Pete was about to massively retaliate when Joey held his finger to his lips.
"Shhh!" he whispered.
Confused, Pete and Cindy looked his way.
"Why do we have to behave now?" Pete asked.
"Yeah," Cindy echoed "we're not in that special restaurant anymore!"
"True..." Joey said with his big-brother grin that could make him almost look grown up, "...but somehow acting special made us feel kinda special too, didn't it? And besides, I can't think of anyplace more special than being with Mom and Dad who just took us out to that great restaurant and bought us all that great food - can you?"
After digesting his words - together with their meal - Pete and Cindy nodded and agreed. The ride home was quiet, peaceful and gave everyone in the car some very tasty 'food for thought.'
Q. How did the kids feel about fighting with each other in the restaurant?
A. They felt like it was a special place, so they shouldn't.
Q. How did they feel on the ride home?
A. They realized that their parents did so much for them and were so special, they should behave well with them too.
Q. What life-lesson do you think the kids learned that day?
A. They'd been used to fighting and acting unruly, but after feeling how different and nice it was to behave better in the special restaurant, they realized it was something they might want to do more often.
Q. Why do you think the kids were able to get along better in the restaurant than they usually did?
A. They were motivated not to get kicked out. However, once they saw they were capable of doing it, it gave them the ability to grow.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think there are more Torah 'rules' for people living in the Land of Israel?
A. The whole world is full of Godliness, but Israel is truly a 'holy land' and the place where a person can feel the most connected to Him and reach his or her highest spiritual potential. Therefore, it only makes sense that such a special 'high-intensity' spiritual environment would require more spiritual behavior to take maximum advantage of it.
Q. Are manner really important?
A. It depends what we mean by 'manners.' Just to follow social conventions, may be expedient, but they have no intrinsic value. However, acting in a way that's pleasant and kind to others is a spiritual act that's always in style.