Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )
People like telling other people what to do. When we give others good advice, we are doing them a big favor. However, we have to be sure that what we tell them is really for their good. The Torah warns us in this week's portion not to mislead people who don't know better. It is like "causing a blind person to get lost," and can really do a lot of damage. God wants us to help others to succeed, and never to trip them up.
In our story, a boy helps his friend stay on the right path.
"THE JOKE'S ON YOU"
From the way the kids in the classroom were bubbling over, you would have thought the circus came to town. For the students in Mr. Calvin's geometry class, it really was the next best thing. A substitute teacher! They were all pretty good kids, and a lot of them even kind of liked geometry, but the class was very intense, and old Mr. Calvin was a no-nonsense kind of teacher. So on those very rare days when the teacher didn't show, almost everyone went a little wild to let off some steam.
Today was no different. As the kids waited for the 'sub' to walk in, the atmosphere in the classroom was a cross between a jungle and a three-ring circus.
For some of the students, one of the "best parts" of the "substitute experience" was seeing what kind of tricks you could play on the hapless fellow. Of course pulling any prank wasn't right, but for some of the students, the best pranks were those that were wild enough to make a big splash, but not so bad as to get the one who did it into serious trouble. One idea that the kids had been thinking about a long time, but no one had the guts to do, was to loosen the screws underneath the teacher's swivel chair. Then, as soon as he would sit down, the chair would topple, and send the sub landing with a plop on the hard, linoleum floor.
Steve, Al, and a few other more popular boys were huddled around in a circle discussing just that possibility. If they were going to do it, they would have to act fast - the sub could come walking in any minute.
Barney, who had just come into the school a few weeks before, edged his way into the circle. He had been trying to get in with this clique of kids for quite a while, with little success.
The boys, as usual, basically ignored him, as they excitedly discussed their plan. One boy even had a screwdriver. But who would be brave or foolish enough to loosen the chair? Making the teacher fall was a serious prank, and would likely mean big trouble for the guy who did it.
They were about to forget about it, when suddenly Al got a brainstorm. He winked at his buddies, and turned to Barney. "Hey, Barney, you're the man. Here, take this screwdriver and become a hero."
Barney was thrilled at the attention. These guys usually barely noticed him, and now they were going to make him their hero!
Steve didn't like the way Al was talking Barney into doing something that could hurt the teacher and get himself into big trouble, but he kept quiet.
"Go ahead," goaded Al, with a sly smile. "We do it all the time. Nothin' bad is gonna happen."
Barney figured it must be an okay thing to do if the bigger boy was telling him to do it. Putting his better judgment aside, Barney eagerly grabbed the small, yellow screwdriver and began his mission, never noticing the smirk on Al's face.
The kid made his way to the front of the classroom. He deftly knelt down behind the black, padded swivel chair and was about to loosen the first screw. Suddenly he felt a hand clamp down firmly on his wrist! Was it the teacher? Had he been caught in the act?
Sweating, and nearly in tears, Barney looked up. It was Steve, one of the kids who had sent him.
"Don't do it Barney," he said firmly.
"Huh, what?" mumbled the startled boy.
Steve shook his head. "The guys were just setting you up to get in trouble. They talked you into pulling a foolish prank, just so they could have a laugh."
Barney winced. He realized that Steve was right, and he had almost done something he would have surely regretted. He let go of the chair, and rushed back to his seat just in time, seconds before the substitute walked into the classroom. Barney felt bad that Al and the guys had tried to fool him, but felt even better that he had stopped in time and discovered a true friend really worth having, in Steve.
Q. How did Barney feel when Al told him it would be okay to play a prank on the substitute teacher?
A. He believed him, and felt like it was really all right, if he said so.
Q. How did he feel after Steve stopped him from doing it?
A. He realized that the boys had advised him to do something wrong, that could get him into trouble. What they did was wrong. We should only advise people to do things that will really be good for them.
Q. If Barney had rigged the teacher's chair and gotten caught, who would have been at fault: him or Al?
A. While Barney would certainly have some responsibility since he chose to actually do it, Al would be just as much, if not more to blame. He purposely advised someone who didn't know better to do something really wrong.
Q. What turns advice into good advice?
A. It's important give others advice with their best interest in mind. Besides this, we should try to put ourselves in their shoes and think about what would really be good for that person before we advise him what to do. Also if we really don't know what would be best for someone, we shouldn't be afraid to say so. That's a lot better than telling them something that might be harmful.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages refer to misleading someone as a form of stealing. How do you think this description applies?
A. What a misleader is doing, in effect, is stealing the trust that others have placed in him. As the word implies, he is mis-leading, i.e. he's leading, someone who trusts him, astray.
Q. If someone asks us for advice and we feel a conflict because what would be good for him would turn out bad for us, and vice-versa, how should we respond?
A. Certainly it isn't ethical to give someone advice that would be bad for them, even if we feel it would benefit us. But neither are we obligated to harm ourselves through advice we give others. Therefore we could simply refrain from giving advice, or alternatively to creatively come up with a way that both of us could benefit. An even higher, more spiritual approach would be to focus on always helping and advising people according to what would be best for them, and trusting that God will ultimately reward us by making it turn out for our best, as well.