The Right to Help
Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )
Helping isn't a burden—it's a privilege. In this week's portion, we learn that it was the Levites—the special tribe with the highest status—that did the seemingly menial job of taking apart and putting together the tabernacle. Being able to help shows we’re capable—and we care.
Debby felt the pinch of her ballet slippers and the squishy bounce of the practice dance floor—and loved it. This was her first day in Mrs. Sherwood’s advanced dance class, which only accepted the best applicants.
“Now we’re going to practice leaping with a baton,” the teacher said. “Rene,” she turned to one kid at the end of the line, “give everyone the props they’re going to need.”
Debby watched as the girl nearly ran at the woman’s words to bring the box of batons and quickly passed them out. She felt bad for girl. It wasn’t the first time she’d been called on to do a chore that day. In fact, from arranging the stretching posts to turning on and off the music between pieces, the poor kid had been running ragged all morning. Only once, had the teacher made someone else help her—and that was during a moment that Rene wasn’t in the room.
Debby had thought it was maybe because the kid was a wannabe who just couldn’t cut it as a dancer and so she hung around just to do these chores. But during some of the exercises, Debby had watched her out of the corner of her eye and she was the best dancer in the class by far.
Then she guessed it was because Rene couldn’t afford the lessons—but the pricey, designer clothing she’d hung in her locker and top-of-the line equipment she used, made that possibility very remote.
So Debby had concluded that for some reason the teacher just didn’t like the unfortunate kid and was loading her with work just to dump on her.
“Okay, you are getting it, but some of you are still clumsy,” the instructor said, “Let’s try it again. Music please,” the woman said, turning once again to Rene, who looked stone tired from the day’s intense workout.
It’s not fair, Debby thought. Maybe I can give the kid a break at least this one time. She walked over to the mp3 player and was about to switch it on when someone grabbed her elbow hard. Oh, oh, she thought, the teacher must have caught me trying to help out her ‘slave’. “I’m sorry Mrs. Sherwood…” she looked up sheepishly, but was surprised to see that the one who’d stopped her was Rene.
“I’ll do that, if you don’t mind,” she said in a friendly, but no-nonsense tone.
“I don’t mind,” Debby said, confused. “But I thought you minded having to do one chore after another, so I just wanted to give you a break.
The girl laughed, confusing Debby even more. “Oh, I see,” she smiled. “Then I guess I should say ‘thank you’, shouldn’t I? But you don’t understand, I want to help the teacher. It’s a privilege I had to work hard to earn.”
“I’ve been in this class longer than anyone else,” Rene said. “Mrs. Sherwood says I have unusual talent and could even take her place one day. That’s why she chose me to be her apprentice.”
“Yeah. She teaches me special dance techniques that most of the class couldn’t handle. She even gives me private lessons after class sometimes. And…she lets me help her.”
“You mean ‘makes’ you help her, don’t you?” Debby said.
“No, I mean ‘lets’. It’s a way of showing I’m not just one of the group, but someone special—an apprentice. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll just turn on the music now, so the class can resume.”
Debby walked back out to the dance floor, shaking her head. Maybe if she practiced hard enough—and Rene let her—she’d get the chance to help the teacher someday, too.
Q. How did Debby feel at first about how much Rene was helping the teacher?
A. She felt sorry for Rene and thought it was a big burden on her.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized that Rene’s helping was a privilege she was happy about and Debby wanted to have the ‘privilege’ of helping, too.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Debby learned that day?
A. She’d always viewed having to help or do things for somebody as something unpleasant to avoid, but she got a new perspective—that sometimes it can be a mark of privilege.
Q. Is it a privilege only to help someone ‘important’ like the ballet teacher, or is helping a simple person a privilege, too?
A. There is certainly a special status in being able to help someone whom one admires, but in a deeper sense, helping anyone—that is having the ability to make someone’s life easier—gives us the privilege of becoming a kinder, more spiritual person.
Ages ten and up
Q. Is it better to be a giver or a taker? Why?
A. While it is human nature to want to take—it is a greater, and ultimately more pleasurable thing to give. G-d is the ultimate give and when we give to others we emulate G-d and become more ‘G-dly’ ourselves.
Q. Do you think that Rene’s helping her teacher during class will do anything to make her a better dancer? Why or why not?
A. Although the connection isn’t obvious, it is surely there. Our sages teach that it is more beneficial to help a wise person than even to study from them. By helping someone we admire, we forge a bond with them that we’d never get through study alone. We learn how they think and how they do things and we discover the less obvious inner abilities that helped them become what we admire—so we can become that too.