How we act doesn't affect ourselves alone. It influences others too. This is why a person can't always just "do his own thing." In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people were all set to move into the Land of Israel and settle there. But some of the people -- from the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Menashe -- came to Moses and told him that they would rather settle by themselves outside of the land. Moses explained to them that this would make the rest of the people feel hesitant and scared to go into Israel. So Moses only gave them permission to do what they wanted, if they first came into the land together with everyone else and helped everyone get settled. Only then could they go back to where they wanted to be.


In our story, a boy helps teach his friend a lesson about pitching in for the good of the group.


The Woodhaven Day School Environmental Club was having its weekly meeting. Yoni, the club leader, started the meeting. "Good news guys," he smiled. "I just heard from Mr. Lampner, the principal, that the town has given us permission to clean and fix the old abandoned playground on Coolidge Street."

The boys were excited. They had started the club to improve the environment in their town, and they had all voted to make this their big summer project.

Yoni went on, "We'll paint all the playground equipment with bright new colors and we'll clear out all those cans and broken bottles and all the rest of the litter all around there. The town council said they'd pay for the paint and the other stuff we'll need. I'll come around and get everyone Sunday morning at 9 a.m. My dad volunteered to drive us in his van."

The meeting went on and everybody came up with good ideas how to make the project a success.

Then Sunday came along and, as promised, the boys got picked up one by one, each of them armed with the tools for the job. They made sure to bring plenty of snacks and drinks as well.

But when they got to Eli's house, they honked the horn again and again. No Eli. Finally Yoni jumped out of the van to find out what was holding their friend up. He rang the bell. Finally Eli answered the door, still in his bathrobe! He yawned and said, "Sorry Yoni, I can't make it. I changed my mind about going."

"What do you mean?" asked a surprised Yoni. "Why don't you want to come?"

"Well, what difference does it make if I come or not?" asked Eli, trying to sound sure of himself. "Even without me there are plenty of guys to get the job done."

Meanwhile the van was honking in the driveway as the boys sitting inside it were growing impatient.

"That's not the point," explained Yoni. "We're all a group," he said. "If you don't come, it doesn't only affect you. It's going to make the others kids have second thoughts too. Soon nobody's going to feel like pitching in. It's important that we're all in it together."

"But it's going to be such a big job!" objected Eli.

Yoni smiled. "If we all do it together, it won't feel so big. But if one guy backs out it will be harder for everyone. So what do you say?" he asked.

Eli thought about it and said, "OK. Count me in. I'll just run upstairs and get into my work-clothes."

A few minutes later Eli joined his friends and they sped to the playground. When they got there they found a mountain of work, but together, it was a mountain they were able to enjoy climbing.

Ages 3-5

Q. Imagine if you're playing a nice game with a few friends. All of a sudden one of the kids grabs the ball and decides he just wants to play by himself. Is this right? Why or why not?
A. No, because if he grabs the ball it means nobody else gets to play with it, and it makes everyone else feel bad.

Q. How did Yoni feel when Eli decided to come with the boys after all?
A. He felt happy because he knew all the rest of the guys would feel better about the work if everybody pitched in.

Ages 6-9

Q. If Eli truly wasn't willing to participate in the clean up project, how could he have acted in a way that wouldn't demoralize his friends?
A. He could have given his opinion during the voting. People could have decided then whether to go on without him or not. But to seem to go along with it and back out at the last moment would be much harder for the other guys to understand.

Q. What special responsibilities does a person have when he or she becomes a member of a team?
A. Being part of a team means you should become a "team player" -- this means you go out of your way to pitch in to the group effort, even if you don't particularly feel like it. It means focusing on the needs of the team and trying to help to fill those needs as best you can. If everybody on the team were to be only concerned about himself or herself, the group would never get anywhere. Team players help everyone else get into the "team spirit."

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Why did Moses think that the other tribes would feel hesitant to settle without the presence of Gad, Reuven and Menashe? How does this relate to our story?
A. Since the tribes had come out of Egypt, they had been planning to enter into the Land of Israel. They had all been of one mind. When someone changes his mind at the last minute after agreeing all along, the people left behind feel betrayed. Eli had chosen to be a part of the environmental group and had sat in on their planning meetings. He had made himself part of the group. By not showing up, it makes the other people in the group feel uncomfortable and may cause them to question themselves and the validity of their goal.

Q. There are times that we truly want to participate and be part of the group, but we feel that our own individual talents and strengths don't fit in with the group needs. How can we bridge the gap to participate and still feel fulfilled?
A. One thing we could do is try to find a way to use our unique talents for the benefit of the group. For example, in our story, a boy who is better suited for playing music than cleaning the park, could offer to play music for the group as they work to entertain and motivate them.

Q. If one morally disagrees with the actions or goals of his society, is he then still obligated to participate?
A. Certainly one must answer to his own conscience and is not allowed to blindly follow a misguided society. Yet if possible one should try to work within the structure of society to improve it rather than simply placing himself outside of it. In this way he is in fact being a productive member of his society and at the same time true to his ideals.