> Weekly Torah Portion > Parents & Kids > Family Parsha

Setting a Good Example

Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

We are being watched. The way we act sets an example for those around us. When the Jewish people were given the Torah, they were called upon to be a 'nation of priests' by setting a good example through their upright behavior for the rest of the world to emulate and grow from. Each of us as individuals also has the chance to set a good example for others by living by our values and doing what's right.


In our story, a girl learns that her choices affect more than just herself.


"Shira, are you sure your parents left?" my friend, Dina, asked me with a conspiratorial grin.

"Absolutely. I just saw the car pull out," I answered, as I typed the special code scribbled on a piece of paper into the computer's keyboard. I knew my parents really didn't like me to use the computer when they weren't home, and they said that since I was the oldest, I should set an example by not using it when they weren't home to supervise.

But it just wasn't fair. I could understand why the younger kids shouldn't go online alone, but what did it have to do with me? After all, I was careful not to break anything, and I almost always visited only the websites on their approved list. That's why I didn't think it was so bad for my friend and me to play a couple of games on a rainy, boring afternoon.

We found an amazing game called Shopping Spree, where they give you a million dollars and take you on a virtual shopping tour through the world's most elegant stores and boutiques, and were having a great time. Then we both got a severe case of the munchies, and decided that only real - and not virtual - chocolate double-crunch cookies would fill the bill. So we put the game on temporary pause, and told Joanie, my kid sister, not to touch it while we braved the weather to make a quick dash to the not-so-elegant corner mini-market to get the goods.

The trip took a bit longer than expected, as we ran into a couple of friends and just had to chat. We dashed home, looking forward to virtual visiting the boutiques of London, or were we up to Paris? But as I got close to our front door, I heard some unfamiliar music playing. I quietly walked into the den, and there was Joanie and two of her friends with their eyes glued to the computer! They were watching some kind of video that while it didn't seem so terrible, certainly wasn't the kind of thing that our parents, and even I, for that matter, thought kids her age should be watching.

"Hey, what's going on!?" I nearly screamed.

Joanie and her friends jumped from surprise, but then my sister gave me a kind of confused look, and said, "What's the problem? Why are you yelling like that?"

I started going into a long speech about how she knows she isn't allowed to use the computer without first checking with Mom or Dad, and how she wasn't being trustworthy, and on and on.

But Joanie didn't look impressed, or even regretful. She just looked me right in the eye and said, "Well, you do it Shira, don't you?"

Her words hit me like a bullet. "Yeah, well ... but um, that's different ... that's not the point ... um..." As I stuttered and stammered and tried to think of an answer, I realized that there wasn't one. The little squirt was right; I had really been doing exactly the same thing I was telling her not to do. And not only that, without knowing it, I had been teaching her to follow my example and do the same thing. I felt awful and didn't know what to do.

Then it hit me. If I could set a bad example, I could set a good one too, though it wasn't going to be easy for me.

I swallowed hard and said, "Joanie, you're right. I did it, but not any more. I admit it was a big mistake." With that, I pulled out my paper with the special code, (which Joanie knew how important it was to me) and in front of everybody, ripped it into 20 pieces, and shut down the computer. Joanie's eyes opened wide and I saw that I had made my point, and felt great.

"But what about London?" Dina protested meekly.

I smiled and said, "We'll just have to wait for my parents to come home, or until then, save our shopping sprees for the corner mini-market from now on."


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Shira feel at first about being asked to not use the computer when her parents weren't home in order to set a good example?
A. She felt like she could do whatever she wanted, and it wouldn't affect the way others behaved.

Q. How did she feel after she came home and saw her younger sister using the computer without permission?
A. She saw that her sister really was following her example, and if she behaved properly her sister would too, and if not, not. So she decided to act better from then on.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why do you think Shira's decision to tear up her password made more of an impression on her sister than her words did?
A. When it comes down to it, the way we act reveals our true values more than what we say. Shira could tell her sister not to break the rules, but until she actually showed her that she herself was willing to 'practice what she preached,' her sister wouldn't take her words seriously.

Q. Should we change our behavior just because of the impression it will make on others?
A. It depends. While we shouldn't let people's opinions or peer pressure cause us to deviate from our values and do what we feel is wrong, we can use it as a positive tool to help ourselves grow. By keeping in mind that our actions will influence others to behave similarly, we will find the strength to stick to our higher values in situations where otherwise we might not.

Q. Who are you a role model for? What kinds of things do you think they learn from you?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What does it mean for the Jewish people to be 'a nation of priests'?
A. The Torah is a system of living in which God reveals the blueprint for ultimate personal and societal happiness. From the time that the we received the Torah we were given the special responsibility of being the world's 'priests', by demonstrating this system by living it, and thus setting an example for the rest of the world, of a lifestyle which, by adopting some of its values, would bring them to greater peace and happiness. While this responsibility doesn't make us better than anyone else, it does give us a different function within the community of mankind.

Q. Is it hypocritical to espouse values that we know are good and true, yet we aren't ready to incorporate into our own lives?
A. Although the ideal is to live according to our highest values, human nature is such that our ideals will always be one step ahead of our ability to live by them. As long as we are sincerely striving to live by our values, it is not hypocritical to promote them. Yet merely paying lip service to a value with no desire to attain it is hypocritical.

Q. Who are you a role model for? What kinds of things do you think they learn from you?


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