Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16 )
There's nothing good about being mean. In this week's portion we learn how the Amalekite nation attacked the Jewish people for no other reason than to be cruel and spiteful. They weren't fighting over land, nor were there any previous fights between them. They simply wanted to harm and destroy. We can learn from this how not to act - not to be cruel or hurtful to others.
In our story, a nasty scene helps a kid discover the truth about being mean.
IN THE MEAN TIME
"Ow!" yelled Danny, rubbing his arm that just got a hard pinch from his older brother, Bob. "Why'd you do that?"
"Cuz it's fun, squirt," laughed the older boy. "Anyway, stop complaining and hurry up. I have a dentist's appointment and Dad said if we're not home by three, I'll be in trouble. And if I get into trouble, you can bet I'm going to make sure you suffer twice as much."
Danny had no doubt his brother meant it. Bob's favorite hobby seemed to be picking on him and doing whatever he could to make Danny miserable.
"Come on! I mean it, run!" commanded Bob with a hard slap on the back. Afraid, Danny started running, only to flop right away on the ground after tripping over the foot Bob sneakily stuck in his way.
"Ha! Haaa! What's the matter, squirt - forgot how to walk or something?"
"Bob, come on, cut it out!" the boy sputtered as he picked up all the stuff that spilled out of the heavy book-bag he was carrying. The bag was extra heavy from all of the extra stuff his brother made him haul. "What did I ever do to you?"
"You exist - that's bad enough. Now come on, we're getting later by the minute."
The boys started walking home, Danny nervously making sure to keep his eye on Bob in case he tried another one of his many 'tricks.'
They were about a block from home when they saw a commotion. A few kids were standing in a circle, holding sticks, laughing and making loud noises. Curious, the brothers got closer and were shocked to see a tiny, frightened kitten cowering in the middle of the circle. Each time it tried to escape, one of the kids would yell loud and bang down his stick inches away from the terrified creature's head.
Danny watched as Bob, who was bigger than any of the kids there, pushed his way into the circle.
"WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU GUYS!?" he thundered. "If you don't put those sticks down this second and get out of here - you're going to be wearing them in your nose!" He clapped his hands and made some threatening stomps, which immediately dispersed the group in every direction. The kitten, sensing freedom, quickly slinked off and disappeared into some tall grass.
Bob, obviously feeling proud of his good deed, turned to Danny and shook his head. "Can you believe the mean streak those guys had? Tormenting a poor innocent creature much smaller than them - just to have fun! Isn't that sick?" he asked, rolling his eyes.
"Well, um, you're right, Bob," Danny nodded. "And it's great how you saved the kitten, b-but ... aren't I smaller than you too and d-don't you hurt me for no reason?" Danny's eyes were tearing and as Bob realized what his little brother was getting at, only his age and toughness stopped his eyes from tearing too. The kid was right. Why was his picking on his little brother any better than those guys being cruel to an animal? In fact ... he swallowed hard ... it was probably worse.
"Yeah ... um ... well, maybe you're right. But anyway, squ i... I mean Danny, let's head home. Dad's waiting for us. Um, if you want you can give me your book-bag to carry for a while and take a load off your back."
The kids bounded home without a single tease, pinch or trip along the way. All thanks to a little kitten, and a little kid that taught a big boy an even bigger lesson.
Q. How did Bob feel about picking on Danny at first?
A. He didn't think twice. It was fun for him and he didn't care how Danny felt.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized that what he was doing was no better than those kids who were hurting the kitten.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Bob learned that day?
A. Although he had been acting very cruel to his younger brother, he hadn't realized he was wrong until he saw the kids tormenting the cat and it dawned in him that the way he'd been treating Danny was just as cruel.
Q. Why do you think that people act cruelly?
A. Many times it comes from not liking themselves, or because others had been cruel to them.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. How would you compare being cruel to animals with being cruel to other people?
A. While cruelty to animals is certainly wrong and forbidden by the Torah, we should realize that being cruel to our fellow humans who are more self-aware than animals and therefore in many ways even more sensitive to pain - including emotional pain - can be even worse.
Q. Do you think acting harshly can ever be justified?
A. While generally harshness is a negative behavior, when dealing with people who are acting in a seriously destructive way and they will not be influenced by a soft approach, acting harshly is not only ethical, but perhaps even mandatory.