Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )
It's hard to be a newcomer - a new kid in class or the neighborhood - amongst old friends who already know each other. How we treat someone new will make a really big difference in how well he's going to fit in. In this week's portion (Ex. 23:9), the Torah teaches the Jewish people to treat converts - newcomers to Judaism - with special kindness and sensitivity. From here, we can learn the value of helping a newcomer feel at home.
In our story, a kid takes a new look at how to treat newcomers.
"Hey, how's the almost-birthday boy doing?" Susan called out to her brother, Pete, who was busily working on one of his backyard gardening projects.
The boy looked up from the rose bushes he was hosing down and grinned. "Doin' great."
"I see you've got the whole house set up for this evening's party," Susan said. "It looks like a ton of treats. How many kids are you expecting, anyway?"
"I dunno. A lot, I guess. My whole school class and everyone," Pete said.
"Wow. It must be nice to be Mister Popular," Susan rolled her eyes. "Hey, what about that new kid - the son of Mom's old college friend who just moved into the neighborhood?"
"What about him?" Pete asked.
"Maybe you should call him up and invite him."
"Why should I call him?" Pete asked as he put down the garden hose and reached for a sprinkler can. "He's in my class. I already put up an invitation note on the bulletin board telling everyone to come."
"Okay, but come on," Susan said. "He's new in town. Don't you think you should call him to make sure he feels welcome?"
"He can read the sign as well as everyone else. I don't see any reason to treat him differently than anyone else," Pete shrugged as he sprinkled water carefully around one small bush and tossed some fertilizer crystals at its base. "Besides, even if he doesn't come, I'll still have plenty of friends that will. Can we stop talking about this please?"
"Whatever," Susan frowned.
"I have to go get a shovel," Pete said. "Can you take over the watering for a minute until I get back?"
"I guess so," she said, taking the hose from Pete's hand as he ran to the garage.
"Hey!" Susan heard Pete yell a moment later. "What are you doing!?" Pete huffed, as he ran back, shovel in hand.
"What does it look like? I'm watering the garden like you asked me to," she said.
"But you can't just hose down that small rosebush there like all the others."
"Why not?" she said, pointing the hose away from the bush.
"Because it's a new transplant."
"Yeah. I just planted it the other day. All the other rosebushes have been here since at least last year."
"So? Why can't you just water it like all the others?" Susan asked.
"Boy, you really don't know anything about gardening, do you?" Pete said. "It takes time for a new transplant to take root, you know, get used to the soil and everything. Until it does, you have to treat it extra carefully - water it gently with a can, give it extra fertilizer and stuff like that. That way it'll take root and grow and not just wither away."
"Oh, you mean to say you can't just treat something - or someone - new like you treat all the others?" the girl smiled.
"Of course not! But, hey, what do you mean by 'someone'?...Wait a minute..." Pete cocked his eyebrow. "You said you weren't going to talk about my party any more."
"Who said anything about your party?" Susan grinned, as her brother stood up and brushed the soil off his knees. "Where are you going?" she asked him.
"Where do you think?" he said. "To make a phone call to invite that new kid. You may not know anything about growing plants, but somehow you always know what to say to make me grow."
Q. How did Pete feel about calling the new kid at first?
A. He didn't feel like he had to treat him different than anyone else.
Q. How did he feel at the end?
A. He felt that since the kid was new, he should treat him extra well.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Pete learned that day?
A. He hadn't understood that someone new needs special attention to make him or her feel at home. But he realized that just as a new transplant in a garden needs special care to get adjusted, so does a newly 'transplanted' person.
Q. Why isn't it enough to just treat everyone - including newcomers - the same?
A. People who know each other, or are at least in a familiar place or situation, have a certain level of comfort and confidence that a newcomer does not. Therefore we should bend over backwards to be extra kind and welcoming, until he adjusts and only then we can treat him like 'one of the crowd.'
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What are some ways we can help a newcomer feel at home?
A. We can make an effort to greet him, help him meet new friends and in general make him feel 'included.'
Q. Do you think there is anything a newcomer can do to help himself get adjusted?
A. It helps to be friendly and open to meet new people, but at the same time to be patient and realize it always takes a while until a newcomer will fully fit in.