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Courage of Convictions

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

True courage is the strength to stand up for our values. In this week's Torah portion (Deut. 31:6), Moses tells the people not to be afraid of the powerful nations trying to stop them from obeying God's directive to live as His holy nation in the land of Israel. When we are committed to doing what's right, we have nothing to fear.


In our story, some kids discover a new definition of courage.


"Who in the world is afraid of butterflies?" Nancy laughed, as her friend, Janet, squirmed and ducked to the side of the trail to move away from the fluttering fliers. They were taking a hike around the nature trail of their local park, but Janet was more than a little unnerved by the various fauna they were encountering along the way.

"Look," Janet said, "I admit that they're pretty and everything, but they're still ... ooh ... bugs, y'know?"

Nancy rolled her eyes. "All I know is that you're the biggest scaredy-cat I've ever met. When that cute little grasshopper jumped across the trail, I thought you were going to jump out of your skin!"

Janet blushed. "What can I tell you?" she said, "I guess you're just braver than me, that's all."

The kids had hiked a while longer when they heard some rowdy laughter around the bend. As they approached, they noticed a couple of tough-looking bigger kids standing by a tree. One of them was poking a stick at a hole in the trunk as a worried-looking squirrel scampered on a branch above.

"C'mon, let's go past those guys fast," Nancy whispered to Janet. "They found a nest of baby squirrels and if we hurry, they'll keep on bothering them instead of us."

Nancy took a number of quick, breathless strides and then relaxed. "Okay, we're past them. Now, like I was saying," she turned around to speak to Janet ... but her friend wasn't there.

Looking, back up the trail, Nancy couldn't believe what she saw. Not only had Janet not raced past the bullies - she was talking to them! Afraid, but even more curious, Nancy doubled back to listen in ... at a good, safe distance, of course.

"I don't think you heard me well enough," Nancy heard Janet's voice say in a stronger tone than she'd ever heard her use before. "These are innocent creatures and you will not harm them. If you don't put down that stick and move on right now, I'm reporting you to the park authorities."

Nancy cringed. "Get over here, you crazy fool," she mouthed silently, trying to get Janet's attention. But if Janet saw her, she paid no attention, standing ramrod straight, arms crossed in front of her, staring the stick-bearer square in the eye.

Nancy was reviewing her first-aid training in her mind - poor Janet was surely going to soon need it - when her jaw dropped, as the big kids, muttering something, mildly ambled past her down the trail, leaving their stick on the ground, harmlessly behind!

"Wow! How'd you ever manage that?" Nancy said, rushing to Janet's side.

As if noticing her friend for the first time, Janet turned to her and blushed. "It's wrong to torment helpless animals," she said simply. "Someone had to protect them. Now do you think, maybe we can go home? The mosquitoes are going to be coming out soon and they give me the c-reeeeeps!"

Nancy nodded silently at her scaredy-cat friend. The absolute bravest kid she ever met.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Nancy feel about Janet at first?
A. She felt that she was a coward - afraid of everything.

Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt that where it really counted, Janet was even braver than she was.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. While Janet was squeamish and cowardly by nature, when it came to standing up for what she felt was right, she became as brave as a lion. And so should we fearlessly stand up for our values.

Q. Why do you thing the tough kids backed down to a weaker, smaller kid?
A. While Janet may have been physically weaker, she had the courage of her convictions behind her, which gave her a deeper, inner strength. The bigger kids sensed that she wasn't afraid of them and they deep down realized she was right - so they backed down.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. How could an easily-scared kid suddenly become so brave?
A. There are two types of courage - physical courage and spiritual courage. Physical courage is a natural thing, some people have more, some less. But spiritual courage is super-natural. It comes from tapping something deep in our souls that give us the courage and strength to take on anyone and anything, in order to do what is right. This is a power we can all tap into, too, to make a better world.

Q. Do we really have a right to assert our personal sense of right and wrong on anybody else?
A. While we certainly should respect others and try not to 'step on their toe,' there are things that God has taught us - and we intuitively know inside -that are objectively right or wrong and we should never be afraid to stand up for what is right.


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