Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )
A person should be sure he sees someone doing wrong before he points his finger. In this week's portion (19:16) we learn that God wants us to be careful not to be a false witness.
In our story, some kids discover why it's important to be careful with what you say you see.
IN THE DOG HOUSE
Bunk 7B at Camp Chattanooga had started out the summer like any other friendly bunk of campers. And why not? The camp had good sports, good food and even Snuffy, the cute little camp mascot dog. But as the days passed, the bunk had turned into a place full of tension and suspicion.
It all started when Larry discovered that his brand new baseball glove was missing from his shelf. At first he and the others figured he'd just misplaced it -but when a lot of other guys found that they had stuff missing too, it looked like Bunk 7B had itself a thief. Not only that, Larry and the other guys had a pretty good idea who it was...
Greg was the kind of kid who was hard to get along with. He never smiled and hardly even spoke - and when he did speak, it was most likely to say 'get out of my face!' or some other nasty comment. He never took part in any of the optional activities and usually spent any free time he had in the bunk, alone. All this, plus the fact that nothing of his had been stolen, had made him the perfect suspect.
"Okay, guys - got a big surprise for you!" It was a hot afternoon break and Jay, their counselor, was holding a big watermelon and smiling. "Since you guys did such a super job getting to morning assembly on time this week, you're getting a special, free swimming period, right now! Not only that, but we're also having a game of watermelon water-polo - winner take all! Everyone meet in front of the bunk in two minutes flat.
"All right!" all the guys cheered as they rolled out of their beds and grabbed their bathing suits and towels. All except Greg, that is.
"Aren't you coming?" Larry asked the kid, who slept above him on their bunk bed.
"Why should I? It's my free time now - so get out of my face!" he grumbled and pulled the comic book he'd been reading in front of him. Larry didn't feel so happy about leaving Greg alone there, but he also didn't want to miss swimming.
The kids piled out of the bunk and were getting ready to head to the pool, when Larry remembered that he'd forgotten to bring his goggles.
"Just a second, guys, I'll be right back." He dashed back into the cabin to get them and gasped as he nearly knocked over Greg, who was bending down over Larry's shelf.
"Hey!! What are doing with my stuff?!" he practically screamed. Greg looked up at him, shocked and embarrassed. Meanwhile, Larry's yell had alerted the rest of the guys, who came pouring back in.
"Finally caught you red-handed, huh?" Keith sneered as Greg muttered something about one of his things having fallen down onto Larry's bed. The kids made a circle around the boy and it looked like there'd be trouble, when Jay, the counselor walked in.
"Where'd you all go ... hey, what's going on here?" he asked.
"We finally caught the thief!" Keith exclaimed. "Larry caught him taking some of his stuff!" Jay looked Larry's way.
"Is that true? If you saw him taking something that's a very serious offense."
"Go ahead, tell him, Larry, and get this thief thrown out of camp so we can all breathe again!" Keith and the others egged him on.
All eyes were on Larry. He also thought Greg was the thief and if he said he saw him stealing they'd be rid of the nasty kid once and for all ... but then again, he hadn't actually seen him taking anything, though it was probably only because he hadn't had enough time...
"Well, Larry?" Jay said.
"I ... I came in and saw Greg next to my stuff, but, no - I didn't see him actually take anything." Greg looked relieved, Jay looked perplexed, and Keith and the other kids looked angry. Larry hoped he'd done the right thing.
ARRF! ARFF! Suddenly, Snuffy the camp dog came bounding into the cabin and gave everybody his usual friendly sniff and jumped back out - but not before grabbing the goggles Larry had put down to give him a pat.
"Hey! Give me back my goggles!" he yelled, laughing as he chased the dog out the door. Soon he caught up to him at his dog house and when he bent down to take the goggles back from the hole next to the dog house, he couldn't believe what he saw. There in the same hole was his baseball glove - and not only that but all the other stuff that the kids were missing. Larry grabbed a handful of the 'stolen goods' and rushed back to show the guys, feeling happy that he'd found the canine culprit and even happier that he didn't say that he saw what he really hadn't and gotten an innocent kid in trouble.
Q. How did Larry feel at first about saying he saw Greg take his stuff even though he didn't?
A. He felt like maybe it was okay, because he probably had stolen other things.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He was glad he told the truth, since Greg was really innocent.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from what happened?
A. There are times we can suspect someone of wrongdoing, but we should be sure before we accuse someone and certainly never say we saw him do something unless we really did.
Q. What if it turned out that Greg really was the thief - would that justify testifying against him falsely?
A. Although stealing is wrong, so is testifying falsely. The Torah way is to speak the truth.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Should we accept as being true whatever people tell us that they've seen?
A. While we can take the information seriously and even act upon the information if necessary - we should always withhold final judgment until we're sure of something and until then, take things with a 'grain of salt.'
Q. According to Torah law, many times two people (and not just one) must testify that they witnessed something to convict someone in court. Why do you think that might be?
A. For one thing, it is a way to make doubly sure that we don't unjustly convict someone of wrongdoing as the court can then cross-examine the witnesses to make sure their testimony matches up.