Quick to Accuse
Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )
Even if the evidence points that way, we shouldn't be quick assume somebody has wronged us. In this week's portion we learn about the Torah's legal system. One of its rules is that a person can't be found guilty of a crime unless there's not one, but two valid witnesses who saw him do it. We can learn from here how careful we should be before we accuse.
In our story, a kid discovers what can happen when we're quick to accuse.
"Okay everybody, you have five minutes to change into your bathing suit and come out to the pool!" shouted Bill, the kids' counselor.
'Five minutes?' thought Jeff Zimmer, 'on a boiling hot day like today I'll be changed and out there in five seconds.'
Jeff loved swimming. In fact he loved everything about camp - except for Greg, that is. He and Greg got along like cats and dogs and just seemed to be always getting in each other's hair.
Jeff ran over to his cubby to change and couldn't believe what he saw. His orange bathing suit was nowhere to be found - it was missing from the hook where he was sure he'd hung it up.
'How could it be?'
Jeff searched up and down and throughout all his shelves but no luck, his bathing suit was gone. 'I can't believe I'm going to have to miss swimming today!'
Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he saw Greg, with a sneaky look on his face, stuff something orange into his foot-locker and quickly slam it shut and lock it.
'Hey, that's my bathing suit!' Jeff thought to himself. 'That nasty kid stole my bathing suit to make me miss swimming.'
He strutted over to him, pushing his way around the other kids who had already changed and were heading for the pool.
"Hey give it back to me!"
"What are you talking about?" grunted Greg, who was also on his way out.
"You know darn well what I'm talking about. You just stole my bathing suit and locked it in your foot locker."
"What? I knew you were a jerk, but I didn't know you were paranoid, too!" Greg sneered back. "If you're not bright enough to keep track of your bathing suit, that's your problem. Don't go blaming me without proof and for no reason." With that, Greg pushed past him and ran out to the pool.
'For no reason?' Jeff thought. 'True, I didn't exactly see him take the bathing suit, but come on - it was obvious what had happened.'
"Okay, five minutes is up, let's go!" the counselor yelled and swiftly headed out.
With no choice, Jeff glumly walked out to the pool, where today he'd have to just watch everyone else have fun.
Out at the pool, it wasn't only the hot sun that was making Jeff boil. As he watched Greg laughingly swim and jump in and out of the water, he was sure the kid was laughing at him. And why shouldn't he - after stealing his bathing suit so he'd miss out on the fun!
Suddenly Jeff got an idea. Maybe Greg had made him have to stay dry today, but at least he'd show the kid he was all wet!
He snuck quickly back to the bunk and went over to Greg's cubby where he'd changed his clothes. He took the kid's clothes, put them under one of the shower heads and turned it on full blast until they were soaking wet.
Feeling that justice had been done, Jeff raced back to the pool before swimming period ended.
He just got there when he ran into his counselor. "Oh, Zimmer, there you are, I've been looking for you."
Jeff wasn't sure what to expect next, but certainly not what came:
"I found this in the pool lost-and-found box," he said, holding up his orange bathing suit. "I guess you must have left it here last time."
Jeff gulped. 'Oh no!' The counselor was smiling now but he certainly wasn't going to be smiling when he found out what Jeff had done to Greg's clothes for no reason. And neither was Greg!
Jeff had a real rough day ahead of him, all because he had made the mistake of judging someone guilty without a trial.
Q. How did Jeff feel when he first saw Greg put something in his foot-locker?
A. He felt sure the boy had taken his bathing suit and he was allowed to take revenge.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt embarrassed and bad that he'd accused Greg and even done something bad back to him, without really being sure.
Q. What do you think Jeff learned from what happened?
A. When he saw Greg - a guy he didn't get along with - doing something that looked like he was wronging him, Jeff thought it was fair to assume that he did it, to accuse him and even take revenge. However, he learned the hard way that things aren't always how they seem and we must be very careful not to falsely accuse people and certainly not harm them based on incomplete and circumstantial evidence.
Q. What do you think Jeff should have done, instead?
A. He certainly could have asked Greg if he'd seen his bathing suit. When Greg said no, he could have explained to the counselor what he saw and perhaps he would have checked it out. If none of that worked, he would have to accept the situation, since he didn't have enough proof to take 'justice' into his own hands and realize that ultimately it was for the good even if he didn't see how.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, would Jeff's revenge - wetting the other boy's clothing - have been justified, had Greg in fact stolen his bathing suit? Why or why not?
A. Justice entails righting wrongs that have been done and can often include taking action upon the perpetrator to bring him to repentance and/or to deter him from future wrongdoing, etc. However, merely to hurt one who has hurt us for 'revenge' has no place in a spiritual way of life.
Q. What if someone really did harm someone else, but there wasn't enough evidence to prove it or take action; does that mean the perpetrator just got off scot-free?
A. It might appear that way, however we know that God is just and sees to it that justice is ultimately done. We have a tradition that besides earthly courts of justice there is a parallel court system that each individual experiences after death, wherein all hidden truth is revealed and any injustices are rectified. Besides this, we also have a mystical tradition that most people experience multiple lifetimes (reincarnation), and that seeming injustices in this lifetime may well be coming to compensate for 'unpaid debts' from a previous lifetime.