Being 'stiff-necked' can mean more than whether we're able to turn our heads. In this week's Torah portion (Ex. 34:9), Moses calls the people 'stiff-necked,' meaning 'stubborn' or 'strong-willed.' Stubbornness can be either a positive or a negative trait - depending on how we use it.

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In our story, a kid finds out that 'stubbornness' isn't always stifling.


"Man, you're so stubborn! Compared to you a mule is laid back!" Jeff sputtered to his brother, Greg, as the two of them began their trek along the cross-country ski trail in the woods on the outskirts of their town.

"Maybe so," Greg countered, waving a forestry service map in his hand, "but we're still going to follow this map and not just 'wing it' like you wants."

Jeff shrugged and grudgingly went along. He knew full well from years of experience that he could argue with his big brother until his face turned blue and he still would never get the kid to back down once he decided on something.

"Hey!" Jeff yelled out, after they'd skied for a while. "Let's go eat lunch in that cool ice cave over there - it looks beautiful." He started to move on his skis, expecting Greg to follow, but the kid just shook his head.

"It is beautiful - and the reason is that it's part of the marked-off nature preserve and nobody's allowed to go in there - including us," Greg said as he led them to the nearby designated picnic area that to Jeff's taste was b-o-r-i-n-g, with a capital 'B.'

After having their lunch-break, the pair moved on. They got to the edge of a frozen lake and Jeff was about to start skiing across, when his brother yelled out, "Hey - hold it!"

"What now?" Jeff yelled out, frustrated. "You can't tell me it's some nature preserve, 'cuz it isn't - and it's even on the map - so what's your problem?"

"Who knows if the ice is thick enough to cross?" Greg said matter-of-factly. "Rule is, we don't cross 'til we test it out, remember?"

That was more than Jeff could take. "Come off it!" he said. "There's nothing to worry about. It's been way below freezing for days. Besides, are you blind or something, man? Look across the lake - it's full of people skating on it, kids and adults. You're just being a stubborn mule like you have been all day - and I've had enough of it!" He pushed on his ski poles and started gliding toward the edge of the lake..."


Jeff stopped short on his skis just in time not to get soaked from the splash of the heavy test-boulder Greg had chucked onto the ice in front of him - which had smashed straight through into the water!

"Whoa!" he cried out "If the ice couldn't hold that boulder, it certainly couldn't have held ... gulp ... me. What happened?"

"I guess the current's flowing faster over on this side of the lake, so it didn't freeze solid yet. Good thing we tested it," Greg said. "You still think I'm a stubborn mule?" he asked with a sly grin.

Jeff looked up at his big brother who'd just saved him from becoming a human popsicle and said, "Actually, yes. But sometimes it takes a mule to save a bucking bronco like me from making a donkey out of myself."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jeff feel at first about Greg's unbending rules?
A. He felt he was being stubborn and unreasonable.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He was glad Greg stuck to his rules, because it saved him from falling through the ice.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. While a person who unbendingly sticks to his or her 'rules' can seem unreasonable and stubborn, sometimes it's just the thing needed to keep things from going wrong.

Q. Do you think Greg was stubborn for sticking to his rules? Why or why not?
A. While he certainly wasn't flexible, he had good reasons for what he did and in the end it paid off.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. What's the difference between 'strong-willed' and 'stubborn'?
A. While the two are similar, 'strong willed' means refusing to compromise on what we believe to be right and just, whereas being 'stubborn' means being inflexible without a valid reason.

Q. Do you think there's ever a time when it's appropriate to 'break' or disregard rules?
A. Most rules have circumstances that prove themselves to be exceptions and some rules, if imposed unfairly, may be ethical to break. However, in general, it's best to stick to rules unless there's a compelling reason not to do so.


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