Holy Self Esteem
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16-20 )
In this week's Torah portion, God instructs us to realize that we're holy. But what does it mean to be holy? It means having strong enough self-esteem to be able to say 'no' and not doing things that go against our values or cheapen us.
God knows each of us is special and holy deep down, and He wants us to know it too.
In our story, a kid chooses to act with 'holy' self-esteem.
"TAKING NO FOR AN ANSWER"
Ruth Stone was sitting on the lunchroom bench, reading her novel like she did every day. She didn't like eating alone but being a studious, quiet type of kid who didn't have many friends, she was used to it.
"It's really nice out today, isn't it?"
Ruth didn't look up from her book since she assumed the voice was speaking to someone else. Then she felt a tap her on the shoulder.
"Mind if we join you today, Ruth?"
She looked up to see the bright, pretty faces of Jill and Paula, two of the coolest, most popular girls in the class. Ruth was confused. Usually these kids didn't even answer back if she tried to say hello to them and now they were going out of their way to sit next to her? She would never dream of getting these kids' attention.
"Sure, sit down," she said. Happy but flustered, Ruth quickly slipped a bookmark into her novel and stuffed it into her knapsack. Jill and Paula put down their lunch trays next to hers and started up a friendly conversation with her as if the three of them were best friends. A little while later, the bell rang, signaling the end of the break.
"Ruth, it was so nice having lunch with you today. Let's do it again tomorrow, too!" said Jill. "And hey, if you're not busy, maybe the three of us can get together after school today at the library to work together on the open book algebra exam that's due tomorrow?" she added with a big, friendly smile.
"Sure!" Ruth answered. Jill and Paula flashed each other a smile and skipped off as Ruth pinched herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming.
The rest of the school day flew by and Ruth had trouble paying attention to the rest of her classes because she was so excited that these popular kids wanted to be her friends.
When she got to the library, she was thrilled to see Jill and Paula were already there waiting for her.
"Great to see you, Ruth," Paula smiled, as they all flipped their math books open to the right page. "Okay, so tell us the first answer?"
Ruth thought it was a little funny that they just wanted her to give them the answer just like that. She assumed they would all work it out together. But she figured maybe they wanted everyone to take turns, so she put her pencil to the paper and worked it out. Meanwhile Jill and Paula quietly chatted with each other and flipped through a fashion magazine.
"Um, the answer is 26X over 11Y," said Ruth. The two girls looked up from the magazine, gave each other a strange nod and quickly wrote in the answer.
"Wow, that's great!" smiled Jill. "And what's the next one?"
So much for taking turns, Ruth thought to herself. This isn't called studying together - even though it's an open book exam and even though kids are allowed to work on it together - that means actually working together. Just having one kid do all the work and giving out the answers isn't right.
"Um, maybe we should all do it together?" Ruth suggested shyly.
Jill and Paula gave each other a funny look and whispered something to each other. Then Jill said, "I'll tell you Ruth, that's not really what we had in mind. You're such a good student… why not just help us out with our tests? You do want us to all be friends after all, don't you?"
Now it all made sense to Ruth. That was why these girls were suddenly willing to be her friend, so she would help them get out of doing their schoolwork. Her head was spinning. She knew as clear as day, if she said 'no' the 'friendship' would be over as quickly as it started, and she so much wanted to be their friend.
"Um, sure I want us to be friends. I see, okay," Ruth said as she began to work out the second math problem and the other girls went back to their magazine. The numbers were spinning in front of Ruth's eyes and she could hardly concentrate. It wasn't right - these kids were just using her. They would do her the 'favor' of being her friend as long as she gave them what they wanted. She so much wanted these kids to like her, but she just couldn't sell herself like this - it made her feel so cheap. She might not be as pretty or as popular as they were, but she was still a good person and worth more than being treated like this.
"Ahem." Ruth cleared her throat.
"Wow, you got it already?" asked Jill with the same pasted-on smile.
Ruth sat up straight. "I sure do get it," she said. "I'm happy to work together on the schoolwork and even help you learn how to do it, but I'm sorry, I can't just keep giving you the answers like this. It isn't right and it isn't fair to me."
"Oh, if that's how you feel, no problem," Jill said awkwardly. Then she looked at her watch. "Oh, Paula, we forgot. We have that tennis lesson right now, don't we?"
"Oh, yeah that's right," Paula said, winking at her friend. "Sorry Ruth, we've got to go. Good luck on your test."
Before Ruth could even answer, they were gone.
The next day, as Ruth expected, Jill and Paula didn't join her for lunch or even bother to look at her. But Ruth didn't care. In fact, even though the way they treated her hurt, she felt great that she had enough self-respect do what was right and not to sell herself out.
Q. How did Ruth feel at first when Jill and Paula asked her to be their friend?
A. She felt happy that such popular kids seemed to like her.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt they didn't really like her but were just using her to do their work for them and she wasn't willing to let them treat her like that.
Q. What life lesson did Ruth learn from what happened?
A. Even though she had dreamed of being friends with kids like Jill and Paula, when it came down to it, she realized that she respected herself too much to cheapen herself by doing things she thought weren't right just so they would like her.
Q. Do you think Ruth would have been happy if she kept doing schoolwork for Jill and Paula so they would treat her like their friend? Why or why not?
A. While she might have seemed cool to others by hanging around with such popular kids, Ruth would not have felt happy. She would always know inside that they really didn't like her for who she was but only for what she could do for them and she was just selling herself so they would pay attention to her. These types of relationship only make a person feel bad about herself and are never worth the price.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the difference between feeling holy and feeling conceited?
A. Feeling holy means that we feel close to God and know that He values every one of His creations and wants us to value ourselves. It is a positive trait that leads us to healthy self-esteem and prevents us from selling ourselves or our values for people's attention or approval. Conceitedness is a feeling of superiority and a negative trait that makes a person feel he has the right to put others down.
Q. What can a person do if he wants to feel holy and to like himself but doesn't?
A. People often mistakenly think that feelings lead to actions but it is really the other way around. If we act as if we like and respect ourselves and make the choices and decisions that we feel someone who did like themselves would make, we will be surprised to see that before long we will feel much better about ourselves and how we truly are holy.