Playing it Straight
Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )
The Torah way is to be straight and honest, and not fool or deceive others. In this week's portion we see the sharp contrast between our forefather, Jacob who was an honest, straightforward person, and Laban, who constantly plotted to deceive him.
In our story, a kid gets a poignant lesson in why it's great to play it straight.
“I guess that's it for today,” said Rachel, slamming her math book shut in relief. "Sorry to crash in on your studying, guys. I just couldn't manage without the help of you two geniuses!" she crowed.
Sharon and Leah looked at each other bashfully, pleased and embarrassed at the same time. They were surprised when the popular Rachel started joining them in the library after school to do math homework. They felt honored that she wanted to be friends with them.
"Rachel," Sharon started,"Leah and I were planning to go to the new ice cream shop after we finished. Would you like to join us?"
Rachel almost burst out laughing but managed to hold herself back at the last second. Did these two bookworms really think that she would be seen in public with them? Besides, she was planning to crash Rikki and Suzy's shopping trip to the mall this afternoon. Three's a party, right? Well, a little 'white lie' would easily get her out of this pickle.
"Oh, gosh. Sorry, Sharon. Sorry, Leah. I've gotta get home and work on my Social Studies project. It's due in a few days and I've hardly started it. You guys are great for thinking of me, though. I hope you enjoy the ice cream!"
"Maybe next time?" they asked hopefully.
"Sure!" cried Rachel, as she ran out of the library and off to her next appointment…
"Hi guys! Hi Riki! Hi Suzy! Mind if I tag along?"
"Umm. Guess not. Do we Suzy?"
"Great!" said Rachel, falling into step next to them. "Where you going?" she asked, as if she didn't know.
"Shopping, right Riki?"
The three girls walked along in silence. Rachel couldn't think of a thing to say, but she didn't care. She was so happy to be seen in the company of such popular girls.
"Hey, Suzy," said Riki. "How about we stop off in that new ice cream shop? I hear the ice cream is delicious. It's right over there. C'mon!"
Rachel had been so engrossed in her inner joy that she didn't notice they had walked right up to the ice cream store. She was about to walk in when a horrible thought suddenly struck her.
"Oh no! Sharon. Leah. I told them…"
Too late! The two girls she was hoping to avoid walked up behind Rachel and were about to go into the shop. They stopped and stared curiously at Rachel as she stood frozen next to Suzy and Riki.
"Rachel, we thought you were going home to do Social Studies," said Sharon.
"I was… I wanted to… I just…"
"Hey Rachel, what's with the bookends? Are they friends of yours? We didn't know you hung out with them. Hey girls, how come you don't have a pencil stuck behind your ear? Ha ha."
Rachel wished the earth would just swallow her up. She felt like she was walking on the highest, skinniest, wobbliest tightrope there ever was in the whole world. Would she make it across without falling? She was in the process of cooking up a whopper of a white lie to both pacify her homework partners and still look good in the eyes of the cool girls. Then she thought to herself, 'Rachel haven't you lied enough already? Has all this trying to fool people gotten you anywhere but in trouble?' It was going to be hard, but she knew it was time for a change.
Rachel took a deep breath. "As a matter of fact, they are my friends. They're great girls and they help me tons. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to join them right now. C'mon Sharon. C'mon Leah. Sorry I wasn't straight with you -- it really wasn't cool. Let's go get some ice cream. Double-dip, and my treat!"
"Wow. Thanks Rachel!"
"For nothing. That's what friends are for. Bye, Riki! Bye, Suzy! See ya later!"
Q. How did Rachel feel at first about telling 'white' lies and fooling people?
A. She felt it was okay if it could help her get what she wanted.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw how it hurt people and wasn't the right way to act.
Q. What life lesson do you think Rachel learned from what happened?
A. She had been going along, feeling as though she could just manipulate people however she wanted by bending the truth and even breaking it. But when her lie backfired it woke her up to see how not cool it really was and she wisely decided to start playing it straight in the future.
Q. Do you think it was fortunate or unfortunate for Rachel that she was caught in her lie? Why?
A. Though it was embarrassing, it really was the best thing that could have happened to her. If she hadn’t been caught then, it is likely she would have kept up her deceiving ways, which would have caused pain to herself and others and likely have led her to get caught in something much more serious later on.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion, are there any times that it's okay not to tell the truth? If so, when?
A. Although truthfulness is a primary value, in certain cases, where speaking truthfully would embarrass another, cause a quarrel, or appear to be bragging there may be room to ethically permit not speaking truthfully. Torah literature examines this issue in depth and someone seriously interested in exploring the topic would find it worthwhile to consult these works or someone knowledgeable in them.
Q. What attitude do you think could help someone who wanted to start living in a more straight, truthful way?
A. One reason people feel they must manipulate and deceive others is that they fear that without doing so they will somehow lose out on getting what they want and need. However we should know that whatever comes our way is only because God makes it happen and as God wants us to be truthful we can rest assured that ultimately He will see to it that playing it straight will bring us the best possible good.