Ability and Responsibility
Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )
Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own choices and the fact that someone pressures or convinces us to do something wrong is not a valid excuse. In this week's Torah portion, even though the serpent tempted Eve, who then convinced Adam to eat from the tree God had warned them not to eat from, all three of them had to face the consequences. God gives each of us the ability - and the responsibility - to choose right from wrong.
In our story, a kid discovers that doing something wrong under pressure doesn't make it right.
"Mark, Daddy and I are leaving now. Why don't you and Jay play that new game Aunt Susie sent along with him?"
"Don't worry Mom. We got it covered, right Jay? We have stuff to do."
"I'm sure. Just keep it local, okay? You know the rules."
"I do. You trained me well. Have fun. See ya later."
As soon as the door closed behind them, Mark and Jay got that jittery feeling that comes when everyone's out and you're alone in the house. What should they do first? Eat? Play? The possibilities were endless.
"Hey, Mark. I have a great idea. I noticed in the kitchen your parents keep some money in that side drawer. How about we grab it and go out and get some pizza?"
Mark froze. Even though he and Jay were first cousins, they didn't know each other that well. They lived about a three-hour drive apart. Jay's parents had gone away on a trip and both boys had been thrilled with the idea of spending some time together. Now Mark wasn't so sure it was a great idea.
"No way. I'm not allowed to even open that drawer. How do you know there's money in there?"
"No one told me any rules. I just opened it. C'mon Mark. It'll be great. Who wants to hang around the house all afternoon? How boring can you be?"
Now Mark began to sweat. Open the drawer? Take the money? Leave the house while his parents were out?
"What are you - a baby?" Jay was chiding him. "A chicken?" Jay started making baby and chicken noises, lying on the floor waving his hands and feet and pretending to cry, and then dancing around Mark flapping his arms like a chicken. The noise alone was making Mark nervous.
"Okay! Okay already! Let's just go." Mark opened the drawer with a bang, grabbed some of the money he saw in there, and the two boys ran out the door.
The next day, after Jay had gone back home, Mark's dad called him into his room for "a little talk."
"Mark," he said, "Do you have anything to tell me and Mommy?"
Mark couldn't speak. He felt terrible.
"It wasn't my fault, Dad. My friend made me do it. He was teasing me and calling me baby and chicken. What could I do?"
Mark's dad stared at him long and hard.
"I understand you, Mark. It must have been awful. But rules are rules, no matter what. They can't be broken just because someone is teasing you. It's a hard lesson to learn, but you know there are going to be consequences. You can't go out after school for the next week. I'm sorry, Mark. I know you'll do better next time."
Mark spent the next week thinking about what he had done as he sat alone in his room, grounded. He realized that he was just going to have to be a little more courageous the next time someone wanted him to break the rules.
Q. How did Mark feel at first when his dad spoke to him about taking the money from the drawer?
A. He felt it wasn't his fault since Jay was teasing him to do it.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized that even if someone's teasing you or pressuring you to do something wrong - you still can't do it.
Q. What do you think Mark learned from his experience?
A. Mark was a good kid who played by the rules, but once Jay pressured him he caved in and did something he knew was wrong. This experience taught him to be ready to face and overcome pressures and challenges to uphold his values.
Q. Do you think Jay was wrong for asking Mark to take the money?
A. He was allowed to ask, as he didn't know at first that Mark wasn't permitted to use the money. But once Mark told him so, he certainly shouldn't have kept pressuring him. Tempting or urging someone to do wrong is wrong even if the tempter doesn't do anything wrong himself.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, if 'A' hires or otherwise engages 'B' to do something wrong for him, who is ethically responsible? Why?
A. Both of them. 'A' is responsible for putting a stumbling block in front of 'B' by tempting him to do wrong, and 'B' is responsible for actually doing it.
Q. What if the person who is telling us to do something unethical is someone in authority, are we then permitted to do it?
A. Each of us, as human beings created by God, has an ethical obligation to live according to true and healthy values. There is no person who has the authority to make us override that. We should, however, ascertain that what we are being asked to do is truly unethical and not merely unpleasant, etc.