Nice and Strict
Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 )
Sometimes there is a difference between being nice and being good. This week's Torah portion teaches how to react to certain destructive people who are leading others astray. The Torah goes out of its way to tell us not to turn our backs and let them off easy. The right thing to do isn't always what appears at first to be the nice thing to do. We are a naturally kindhearted people, but it's important to remember that there is also a place for strictness when it can lead to a greater good.
In our story, a girl finds out that sometimes the way to be nice isn't what she initially thought it was.
"GETTING HER FEET WET"
"Where do these little kids get all their energy?" thought Amy with a smile, as she sat on the high chair by the side of the pool. The girl enjoyed her new summer job as lifeguard and water counselor at Camp Nacoma. Amy had never been a counselor before and the idea of being an authority was a little scary to her. She was a gentle girl who didn't like having to being strict and telling people what to do.
But soon enough Amy felt herself being put to the test.
She heard a lot of yelling coming from the far end of the pool. Amy turned in time to see a group of the kids fighting next to the diving board. One girl was pushing the others, splashing and yelling at them to move.
"Liz again!" Amy said to herself, as she recognized the wiry redhead in the middle of the action. Liz just seemed to be the kind of kid who couldn't play by the rules. She had to take two turns for everybody else's one, and anyone who got in her way got a dunk or a splash for their trouble.
The other lifeguards had warned her about Liz, and told her that when they are on duty they have to kick her out of the pool almost every day.
Amy lifted the shiny steel whistle that she wore around her neck and got ready to blow it, to tell Liz to get out of the water. But then she had a second thought and took pity on the girl. "Why should I be so mean and ruin the poor kid's summer? After all, the fight will break up in a minute. So what if the girl took an extra turn every once in a while?" Amy told herself as she looked the other way.
A little while later, as Amy sat back on her chair, she noticed a couple of girls swimming her way. Did they need another kick-board? She leaned over the side of the pool, and with a big smile she turned to the kids. "Hi guys, what's up?"
But the girls didn't smile back. In fact they looked ready to cry. Finally one blurted out, "Why are you so mean? You're the meanest lifeguard we ever had!"
Amy nearly fell out of her chair. Her? Mean? She had been trying so hard to be nice. "What are you talking about?" she asked the kids, confused.
"You never punish Liz, and she ruins the swimming for everybody. That's why you're so mean."
With that, the kids dove under the water and swam away, leaving Amy with a lot to think about.
The next day Amy was back on duty, and once again Liz started to act up. Amy didn't know what to do. She wanted to be nice, but maybe the nice thing to do really was to stop Liz from making the other kids miserable. It would make Liz feel bad, but there was no choice. "You just can't please everybody," she thought.
Amy blew her whistle. Everybody stopped swimming and looked her way. "Liz," she said, mustering up her courage, "you're breaking the rules. I'm sorry, you have to get out of the pool - now!"
Amy thought she noticed a smile of relief coming from the other kids in the pool. It hadn't been easy, but she had done the right thing. From that day on, the rest of the summer went very smoothly. Amy tried to be nice to everyone, but she was no longer afraid to use the whistle when she had to. She understood that sometimes being strict is being nice.
Q. How did Amy feel the first time Liz broke the rules?
A. She felt like it would be nicer not to punish anybody, so she left Liz alone.
Q. How did she feel the next day?
A. She realized that if she let Liz break the rules, it was really being mean to the rest of the kids who Liz was bothering.
Q. Do you think Amy made the right decision in the end? Why or why not?
A. It wasn't easy for Amy to enforce the rules and cause Liz to lose her pool time. But it was the right thing to do. Liz's behavior was ruining everyone else's time, and to let her keep going would have been mean to the rest of the kids.
Q. What would you have done if you were Amy?
Q. Does being kind mean always saying 'yes'?
A. Sometimes we are being kinder if we say 'no'. For example, if a young child wants to run across a busy highway, saying 'yes' would be the height of cruelty. True kindness is only allowing people to do that which is good for them and others, and not merely whatever they want.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the difference between being nice and being good?
A. Being nice means to act pleasantly, with proper manners etc. It is certainly a positive trait, as long as it doesn't come into conflict with the much higher value of being good.
True goodness is acting in a way that is responsible, and will make a positive impact to an overall situation. Sometimes to make this happen one might be forced to act in a way that doesn't seem so 'nice' in the eyes of others. But this shouldn't stop us. When we do what is right and good, everyone will ultimately benefit.
Q. Does one person ever have the right to tell another what to do?
A. It depends on the situation. Certainly it's not right just to bully others and make them do our will for no good reason. But when others are acting in a way that hurts others, and even themselves, we certainly have the right - and even the obligation - to try to stop them.