Sticking to Fairness
Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )
Is it wrong to convince someone to do something that will be good for you when you know it won't be good for him? If someone lets himself get taken advantage of, isn't it his problem and not ours?
This week's Torah portion teaches us that we must treat each other fairly and not take unfair advantage of people even when we can. After all, isn't that how you would want others to treat you?
In our story a kid faces the choice of making a big gain - but at someone else's loss.
Debby Meyers was halfway out the door on her way to school when she couldn't believe what she saw out of the corner of her eye. Her little kid sister, Clara, was sitting on the carpet, happily playing with some stickers and a sticker book. And in her hand was an extremely rare sticker from a special collector's set that was all the rage in Debby's school. Debby couldn't believe it. Everyone in her class had been frantically trying to get that sticker for weeks! Somehow her little four-year-old sister must have really lucked out and got it included in a package she bought.
"Um, Clara ... where did you get that butterfly sticker?" Debby stammered.
"It's mine like all the rest!" said the young girl, defensively.
"Um, maybe you want to trade it?" Debby asked, half expecting Clara to laugh in her face.
"If you want it, it'll cost you one of yours, just like every time," Clara said firmly.
Debby realized that Clara didn't know that there was anything special about the sticker and that it was really worth at least a hundred good stickers.
"Clara, do you realize that..." then Debby stopped talking and started thinking fast. Why should I tell her anything? If her sister didn't know, that was her problem. Why not just make a trade with a regular sticker and walk away with it for herself?
"Do I know what?" asked Clara.
"Um, do you know ... I will trade you for it. Here, how about this nice big pretty one?" she asked holding out a big and colorful but common and almost worthless sticker.
"Sure!" said Clara with a big smile as she handed Debby the valuable sticker.
Debby rushed out the door before Clara could change her mind. She practically danced to school and couldn't wait to show her friends that she had the most rare and valuable sticker in the whole collection.
"Unbelievable!" said her friend, Sara, wide-eyed with wonder when Debby showed it to her. "Did you buy it in a store?"
"Nope, I traded for it."
"What? You must have traded someone your whole allowance for the next ten years!"
Debby smiled and told her friend what happened, sure she would call her a genius for getting such a great deal. But as she went on, she noticed Sara's face darken.
"Debby, how could you have done that?"
"How could you take advantage of your little sister like that?"
"What do you mean? She was perfectly willing to do it."
Sara shook her head. "It was so unfair. You know she only traded with you because she didn't know better..."
Debby didn't want to hear it. "Look, Sara, just leave me alone, okay? I got it fair and square and that's it." With that, the she walked off and straight over to a kid who had just offered her to trade her 150 really good stickers for it.
As Debby walked home from school that day, her backpack was loaded with all the stickers the kid had traded her. But she felt a little funny. Maybe it really wasn't fair to take advantage of someone who didn't know better.
When she got home, she saw Clara playing innocently with her stickers. Debby sighed. It wouldn't be easy for her, but she knew what was the right thing to do.
"Um, Clara," she said.
The little kid looked up.
"Remember that trade we made this morning?"
"Well, it wasn't fair."
"It was too! I'm not giving your sticker back!" she protested. "I gave you a sticker and..."
"No. Clara, I mean it wasn't fair to you. Here, this is what you really deserve for that sticker you gave me," Debby said as she handed her sister a box filled with a huge pile of stickers. Clara's mouth dropped open and she couldn't stop smiling. But Debby, who knew she had just met the challenge to do the right thing, was smiling even more.
Q. How did Debby feel at first about the trade that she made with her little sister?
A. She felt that even though she had given Clara much less than the sticker was worth it was okay since she hadn't made her do it.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She knew that it really was unfair to take advantage of someone who didn't know better, even if they let you do it.
Q. What life lesson did Debby learn that day?
A. She had thought that as long as you don't force somebody to do something, there was nothing wrong with trying to trying to get them to do something you know isn't in their best interests. But Sara's words and Debby's own inner values made her realize that fairness didn't depend on whether the other person knew they were being treated unfairly or not.
Q. What do you think Debby should have done when she first saw her little sister had the sticker she wanted?
A. She could have told her that it was really important to her to have that sticker and then offered to trade her something that was worth about the same amount.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is there anything wrong with trying to make the best deals we can?
A. No, as long we are doing it fairly and honestly. However, taking advantage of people is wrong. God wants us to be honest and there are many books of Torah law filled with the wisdom of how to behave fairly and honestly in every situation.
Q. Do you think there is any correlation between a person's faith in God and fairness?
A. The Jewish concept of faith in God includes the understanding that just as God is the one who provides us all of our needs, He also doesn't want us to hurt or take advantage of others. Therefore a person with true faith will always act fairly and know that God will see to it that we get all we need in an honest way.