You Have the Right ... Not to Do Wrong
Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )
If somebody tells us to do something we think is wrong to do, we don't have to do it. In this week's Torah portion (Ex. 1:17), the powerful king Pharaoh ordered two Jewish nurses, Shifra and Puah, to harm Jewish babies secretly when they were born. But these brave women didn't listen and wouldn't do something that went against their values of right and wrong. And neither should we.
In our story, a kid has to decide how valuable his values are.
Josh couldn't believe his luck. Somehow, he managed to get chosen to be part of his school's famous, champion baseball team. Well, he hadn't actually been chosen to play on the team - he was picked to be the team's assistant equipment manager. But for a younger and not-too-athletic guy like him it was about as close to being on the team as he was ever going to get - and a big honor.
It was Josh's first day on the job and he made sure to work really hard setting out the stuff for the team before the game started. The game was now over - they'd won, of course! - and he was working really hard to get the clubhouse and locker room back in shape after the coach and all the players left.
Josh was sorting out the guys' dirty uniforms to send to the laundry when his 'boss,' Steve, the equipment manager, walked in.
"Not bad, squirt." He gave Josh a friendly 'part of the team' wink that made him feel ten feet tall.
"Thanks," he said. "I'm just about done sorting the uniforms, what's next?"
"I guess that's it," Steve said. "See you at tomorrow's game."
Josh was about to walk out of the locker room, when Steve turned to him and said, "Just go grab us a couple of baseballs first."
"What?" Josh asked, confused.
"Yeah, here, just unlock the coach's office," he threw Josh a key. "In the second drawer to the right, he keeps the baseballs. I need two or three to take home with me - and you can take one, too," he said with a grin.
"But isn't that school property?" Josh said.
"Don't worry about it. It's one of the perks of the job - just like this little key I made for myself. Hurry up, okay?"
"But are we allowed to go in there and take stuff like that? Isn't it like stealing?"
Steve's smiling eyes suddenly turned hard and cold. "Be quiet and just do what I told you. You want to keep this job, don't you?"
Josh felt scared. He wanted to keep the job more than anything. He took a step toward the coach's office, then stopped. He'd never stolen a thing in his life. Was he really going to start now?
He turned, looked at his boss with frightened eyes and shook his head. "I just can't."
"I have no time for goodie-goodie jerks like you!" Steve spat the words out. "I'll get them myself." He grabbed the key out of Josh's hand and marched into the office.
Josh was thinking about how he was going to lose the job he wanted so much, when he heard a yell coming from the office. But it wasn't Steve's voice.
"How dare you sneak into here!" he heard the coach's gruff voice. "You have no permission to come in here. And where did you even get a key?"
* * *
The next game arrived and indeed Josh was no longer the assistant equipment manager. He was the equipment manager himself! The coach, who'd been resting in his office before going home when Steve snuck in, kicked his ex-boss off the team and appointed Josh - who passed the test of doing what was right - in his place.
Q. How did Josh feel at first when Steve had told him he had to go take the baseballs?
A. He didn't think it was right, but he was afraid he'd lose his job if he didn't do it.
Q. How did he feel afterwards?
A. He decided he couldn't do something he felt was wrong, like stealing. And in the end he was glad he did.
Q. What life-lesson could someone learn from this story?
A. There can be times when people try to get us to do things we feel are ethically wrong. No matter who they are and even if we feel we might lose out if we don't do it, we shouldn't be afraid to say 'no.'
Q. Did the fact that Steve was Josh's boss mean he had the right to ask Josh to steal?
A. No. Each of us is responsible for our own ethical value choices and the fact that someone seemingly 'important' asks us to do something wrong, does not make it allowable.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Are there times when we should do things that go against our values?
A. We have to think long and hard why we don't want to do something. If it's only because it's inconvenient or goes against our preferences, we should be willing to compromise. But if it something that goes against our core values of right and wrong, we may have to stand up against it, even if there will be consequences.
Q. How can we determine what's ethically 'right' and what's 'wrong'?
A. Deep inside, each of us has an 'ethical barometer' that tells us what's right and what's not. However, this voice is very subtle and it's easy to get confused by individuals or a society that tells us otherwise. Fortunately we have the Torah, which is full of timeless wisdom concerning universal values of right and wrong, and if we consult it, or those who have studied it, we can gain a treasure trove of ethical clarity.