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Honesty Pays

Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

When we hear the word "stealing" we usually think of robbers with masks and guns or a thief sneaking around in the night. However there are many more subtle forms of stealing that we may not have considered. For instance in this week's Torah portion we learn about the very special camels of our forefather, Abraham. While most camels would nibble on people's fields and plants, as they would pass through a town, Abraham was careful to keep his camels muzzled up so they wouldn't take a single bite of food that didn't belong to him. Abraham recognized that even this little taking, which everyone did, was actually stealing. We too can learn from this to keep our distance from anything the least bit dishonest.


In our story a boy faces a challenge to remain honest.


Jonathan Coleman walked out of the Ace Hardware store in a rush. His dad had asked him to pick up a few things for him on the way home from school, and now he was hurrying to get to soccer practice on time.

After soccer practice, as he was changing out of his uniform, Jonathan noticed that the pocket of his pants seemed awfully full. He reached in and pulled out his receipt from the hardware store together with a wad of big bills.

His friend Hal from the next locker had been watching the whole thing. "Hey Jon, when did you get so rich all of the sudden?"

Jonathan didn't answer. He was too busy studying his receipt. He realized that the clerk at the hardware store had made a mistake and had given him change for $100 instead of the $10 dollar bill he had actually given. In his rush to get to practice, the boy had just stuffed the money into his pocket without thinking twice.

When he told Hal what had happened, his friend's eyes grew wide. "Wow are you lucky!" he exclaimed. "What are you gonna buy with it?"

Jonathan looked up at his friend and said, "I'm not going to buy anything with this money. I'm going right back to the store to return it."

Hal dropped the soccer ball he had been holding onto the floor. "But why?!" he asked. "You didn't take the money. They gave it to you. And they'll never find out! Hundreds of people must shop there every day. Besides, I'm sure you need the money a lot more than the store does."

Jonathan thought about what Hal said. He did have a point. It sure would be nice to have all that money...

But then he shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said firmly. "If I keep this money, it's stealing. It doesn't belong to me."

With that Jonathan turned on his heels and started walking to the store. He found the same clerk working there as before. Jonathan showed him the sales slip and handed him back the wad of bills. The clerk's face broke into a smile of amazement and admiration, and he called over his father, the store's owner. Pointing to Jonathan he said, "Meet this honest young man, a real hero!"

Jonathan went home that day with less money in his pocket, but feeling like a million bucks.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jonathan feel when his friend tried to convince him to keep the money?
A. He felt tempted to listen to him and keep the money.

Q. Why didn't Jonathan keep the money? How did he feel after he returned the money to the store?
A. He felt like he had done the right thing, and that felt great.

Ages 6-9

Q. Do you think Jonathan would have been happy had he listened to Hal and kept the money?
A. Even if he had enjoyed having the extra money at first, eventually he would have regretted his decision and felt bad about taking something that wasn't his. People deep down want to be honest and feel great pleasure and contentment when they are. In the long run dishonesty never makes a person really happy.

Q. Why do you think that generally honest people sometimes make excuses to justify taking things that aren't theirs?
A. Even people with good values can find themselves at times being tempted by things that they want. Sometimes they start to think of ways to make it somehow okay to take them. Rationalizing like this is natural. The important thing is to recognize that our mind is trying to play tricks on us, and to stick to our values and remain honest. We'll be glad we did.

Q. Can you think of a time when you tried to rationalize to do something you knew to be wrong? What did you do?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Would you say that it would be justifiable for someone to take something that wasn't his if:

  1. He knew he would never get found out?
  2. He was only taking something very small from someone very rich and would never miss it?
  3. He wasn't taking it from an individual but rather from the government or big corporation?

A. It may be easy to rationalize these cases, but it's still stealing. Honesty and refraining from theft is a value independent of whether one gets caught or does significant harm. God wants us to be honest people, period. Our spiritual character, which is our most important possession, is greatly affected by how well we succeed in this area.

Q. Do you think there is any relationship between a person's level of honesty and his level of belief in God?
A. A big part of one's relationship with God is knowing that God is aware of our actions. Even if no one will see what we do and we will never get caught, God sees everything. God also provides for all of our needs. He assures us that anything we truly need will come to us by means of our honest efforts. By stealing, a person is in effect demonstrating that he doesn't believe that God can give him what he needs and is therefore antithetical to faith.

Q. Can you think of a time when you tried to rationalize to do something you knew to be wrong? What did you do?


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