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Face The Challenge

Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Being tolerant doesn't mean tolerating destructive behavior. This week we learn about Pinchas, who saved the Jewish people from a very serious crisis by taking a stand, and unlike many others around him, refusing to look the other way and tolerate the destructive wrongdoing happening around him. When we take a stand for what is right, we improve the world and show we care.


In our story, a kid faces the challenge of standing up for what is right.


"Wow! It sure is pretty out here!" exclaimed Judy, as she and Wendy hiked along the green woodland trail.

"Of course it is. We're just usually too busy to notice!" replied her friend. The two of them were working real hard all week as junior counselors at Camp Northstar. Now they were enjoying their day off with a relaxing hike along some of the camp's beautiful trails.

They had just sat down on a couple of big rocks and unpacked their picnic lunch when Judy began to sniff. "Hey, do you smell smoke?" Judy asked with alarm.

Wendy shrugged. "Probably just some barbeque at one of the local trailer parks. Let's eat."

"No," Judy insisted, "it really seems close. Hey, look over there!" Judy said, pointing to some smoke billowing up just over the ridge. Before Wendy could even answer, Judy had already jumped up and began running in its direction.

Breathing hard, the girls arrived at the scene of a group of kids from the camp sitting and laughing around a campfire they had made. They looked up, surprised at the sudden arrival of the two counselors.

"False alarm, let's get back to lunch," Wendy said with a relieved smile.

But Judy wasn't relieved at all. "What do you mean 'false alarm'? You know as well as I do the camp safety rule that nobody's allowed to make any unsupervised fires." Judy turned toward the group of kids and ordered, "Put it out - right now!"

But the campers balked. "Leave us alone. What's the big deal? We're being careful," they argued.

Even Wendy seemed to be on their side. "Oh come on Judy, wouldn't you rather spend our day off relaxing than fighting with these kids? Let's just pretend we never saw it and let them have their fun - and us, ours."

Judy didn't know what to do. Maybe Wendy was right. It would be easier to just turn their backs and be on their way, but then again it would be irresponsible. That safety rule hadn't been made for nothing. Fires could be dangerous - who knew what could happen?

"No," she shook her head. "I'm sorry, fun or no fun, complaints or no complaints, it's wrong and dangerous to keep this fire going. If this fire doesn't go out and stay out, I'm going to report you all to the camp director." She determinedly walked up to the fire, picked up a big stick and began using it to shovel dirt onto it to put it out.

Meanwhile the kids kept up their taunts, calling Judy mean and unfair, and asking why couldn't she be cool like Wendy, etc. For her part, Wendy just stood there glowering and shaking her head. "There goes our day off. Is it really so dangerous?" she whispered sharply.

Judy tried to ignore them as she shoveled the dirt. The unkind comments hurt, but she was doing the right thing - wasn't she?

The fire was just about out when Judy's stick hit something hard. She pushed away the dirt and what she saw made her nearly fall over. "Guys, Wendy, could you all please do me a favor and come take a look at something interesting."

Despite their annoyance, out of curiosity they came near.

COMPRESSED FUEL. HIGHLY FLAMABLE! KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE read the bright red warning label. It was the camp fuel tank that somehow got covered up by dirt and sand right where the kids had made their fire!

Wendy looked in disbelief. "Wow, what a miracle. If this fire had keep going there is a good chance you all would have gotten blown to the moon."

The kids nodded their heads in silence. All eyes turned to Judy. The girl they had all been putting down was suddenly the big hero, because she was willing to take the heat, and stand up for what was right.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Judy and Wendy feel differently when they discovered the kids had gone against the rules and made a fire?
A. Wendy wanted to leave them alone and not bother to make them put it out, even though it could be dangerous. Judy wasn't willing to tolerate something wrong and dangerous, and took the responsibility to put it out even though she got teased about it.

Q. How did everyone feel when they found the fuel tank under the fire?
A. They felt grateful that Judy was willing to take a stand and put it out even though it wasn't easy.

Ages 6-9

Q. Who do you think was a better counselor, Judy or Wendy? Why?
A. Even though Wendy might have seemed better or nicer for letting the kids do what they want despite the danger, she was really acting irresponsibly. Judy was the better counselor. She had to be strict, but she did so because she had the kids' best interest and safety in mind.

Q. Let's suppose there had been no fuel tank under the fire, and even nothing bad would have happened if the fire kept burning - would Judy have been proven wrong to make the kids put it out?
A. No matter what had or hadn't happened, Judy made the right decision. We have to always try to do the right thing in every situation, and shouldn't gamble that things will turn out okay even if we don't.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our sages teach that it is better to seem foolish in the eyes of people all our lives than to be destructive in the eyes of God for even a moment. What does this mean, and how does this apply to the theme of the story?
A. Our focus in life shouldn't be on winning other people's praise and approval, rather we should act according to our true values, i.e. doing what is right in God's eyes. Even if it means people mocking or disapproving of us, it is the price a spiritually attuned person, like Judy in the story, is willing to pay.

Q. Is there a difference between tolerating people and tolerating their behavior?
A. Tolerance is an important value. It means recognizing and accepting that God has made each person unique, with his own way of looking, acting, and thinking. However, it doesn't mean that we must passively tolerate behavior that is negative or destructive to the doer or to others. Humanity is all one big family, and God wants us to take active responsibility for one another even if it is easier to just 'look the other way.'


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