Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
A false rumor is no form of humor. In this week's Torah portion (22:13) we learn how wrong it is to spread rumors that can harm people's feelings and reputations.
In our story some kids get tangled up in a web of rumors.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
"I'm really kind of nervous about starting school today, not knowing anybody and everything," Heather said to mother, who was driving her.
"Making new starts are never easy," her mom said. "But I think it's going to work out just fine. I just spoke to your new teacher on the phone, to let her know we were on our way. She mentioned that the kids in your class are super friendly and always make a newcomer feel at home."
"Guess what?" Jenny asked her friend, Kate, as the kids were milling around their homeroom class before the bell rang, signaling the start of the first school day of the year. "I overheard the teacher talking on her cell phone out in the hall. A new kid who moved to town is on her way. The teacher called the kid's mom 'Doctor' so I bet she's on the staff at the cross-town hospital."
Paula, who half-overheard, turned to Sharon and whispered, "Did you hear that? A new kid's coming whose mom is in the hospital. I wonder if it's something serious."
Sharon nodded earnestly and as soon as Paula left, she went over to her friend, Liz and said, "You know what I just heard? There's a new kid on the way who has some kind of serious disease and just got out of the hospital. Do you think she's contagious?"
Debby's eyes widened at the scary news she overheard and she immediately went over to a group of kids and said, "Don't get near the new kid when she walks in. She's got a contagious disease!"
"Okay, Heather, Have a great start - and a great day!" her mother said as she dropped the girl off in front of the school building.
"Thanks Mom," she answered. "I feel so much better since you told me it's supposed to be a friendly class. If they weren't, I think I'd just shrink under my desk and stay there forever."
Back in the classroom, the panic level was rising. Kids didn't know whether they should run away from the girl with the horrible contagious disease when she showed up or if they should just scream at her to stay away from them.
The teacher, noticing the commotion, walked over to them. "Hey, I know it's first day, but can we try to calm down a little?"
"Calm down?" Lynne blurted out. "How can we calm down when we're all about to catch a deadly disease from the new kid who's about to come?"
"What?" the teacher startled. "Yes there's a new student on the way, but she doesn't have any disease. Where on earth did that crazy rumor come from?"
"Well…I heard it from Debby," Lynn said as all eyes shot to Debby.
"Well that's what Paula said!" she countered.
"But I heard it from Jenny!" Paula insisted.
"Well, Jenny?" the teacher asked.
"But I heard everything about the kid's terrible disease from Lynne. Until then all I knew was that her mom worked as a doctor. Or at least that's what I overheard…you say over the phone."
All the kids looked at Jenny as the teacher shook her head. "And that's all there is to know. I promise you all that the new girl is just fine and you'd all better give her a warm welcome."
Just then the door opened. Heather walked in and the kids in the class - who all realized what a terrible mistake they had just almost made - were very friendly. As Heather settled in, little did she know she had almost been a victim of a terrible contagious disease - called rumors.
Q. How did the kids in the class feel about the new kid who was coming, at first?
A. They were afraid because of the rumors they'd heard.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They were embarrassed that they'd believed false rumors.
Q. What life-lesson could someone learn from this story?
A. Rumors have a way of spreading like wildfire and can be just as harmful. We have to be careful not to say things we're not sure of and not believe at face value everything we hear.
Q. What do you think would have happened if Heather had walked in before the teacher set the class straight?
A. The kids would have avoided and stigmatized her so much that she might never have adjusted to the new school or felt like she fit in. Spreading rumors can really damage someone's life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What's the proper way to react if we hear a rumor?
A. We certainly shouldn't spread it or accept it as fact. If it's something that could genuinely impact our lives we can check out its veracity. If not, best to just let it fly in one ear…and out the other.
Q. Did the kids who spread the rumors have bad intentions?
A. No. If they had, it would have been much worse. But even well-intentioned rumors can confuse and cause harm and should be avoided.