Too Much is No Good
Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )
Sometimes what we think is being kind is really being cruel. In this week's Torah portion (31:14) we learn of some officers who disobeyed Moses by doing something they thought was being kind, but ended up causing a cruel tragedy to happen. We can learn from here to think twice about whether the 'kindness' we are doing is really kind.
In our story, a kid discovers that sometimes what we think is being nice is really being mean.
"Chuckie...Amy, be sure to behave and do what Laura tells you, and I'll be home soon, okay?" smiled Mrs. Jacobs, slinging her carry bag over her shoulder.
"Thanks, Laura, I really appreciate you coming over and babysitting on such short notice. The kids just had lunch, but if they get hungry later, you can give them a brownie from that tray over there—but only one or two. Oh and, of course, help yourself to whatever you'd like.
The woman hadn't been out the door more than ten seconds when Laura felt four little hands tugging on her shirt.
"We wanna treat! We wanna treat!" She looked down at the brightly smiling faces.
"Oh come on, guys. Your mom just left. Why don't you play a while, or if you want I'll read you a story."
The smiles quickly melted into frowns.
"Why not? Why you being mean?"
"Yeah, meanie, meanie babysitter!"
Laura really liked little kids and the last thing she wanted to be was mean. So she walked over to the tray of fresh brownies and handed them each one. The smiles returned brighter than ever.
"Thank you, you, you!"
"Nicey, nicey babysitter!"
She then sat the kids down to read them a story, but when she finished the first chapter, they began the now familiar chant:
"We wanna treat!"
"We wanna 'nother treat!"
She tried to ignore it and read the next chapter, but they only sang louder.
"Be nice not mean!"
"Nice not mean!"
Laura didn't know what to do. The kids, despite their slightly obnoxious behavior, were really very cute. She knew their mom had said not to give them a lot, but it wasn't such a big deal, so why shouldn't she be nice to the kids and give them another one?
"Nice, nice babysitter!"
"Nicest in the world!"
Laura smiled and thought that would be the end of it—but it was only the beginning. After each chapter of the book, the kids begged her for brownies, making sure to say how nice she was for giving them—and how mean she would be not to. Each time, Laura tried to put them off, but their big, pleading eyes melted her heart and made her want to be nice to them and let them have another treat.
Everything went fine until chapter seven. Laura was in the middle of reading, when she heard a groan. She looked from the storybook up and saw Chuckie lying on the floor.
"Oh...don't feel good." he moaned, rocking back and forth.
"Me neither!" whimpered Amy, slumped back on her little chair.
Oh, no! Laura panicked. The kids had been fine just a moment ago and now they both seemed so sick. Not knowing what to do, she dialed the cell-phone number their mother had left with her in case of an emergency.
A few minutes later a car pulled up fast into the driveway and Mrs. Jacobs flung open front door. She saw both kids now lying on the couch, looking pale.
"Laura, what happened?" the woman asked, worriedly.
"Well, they were fine. We were having a great time, I was reading them a story and then they just got sick..."
"Just like that?"
Laura lowered her head and added, "Well, I think maybe I gave them too many brownies..."
Mrs. Jacobs turned to see the half emptied tray.
"What? You mean you gave them all of those?"
"Um, well, yeah. They kept asking and I just wanted to be...you know...nice to them." she mumbled.
Now that she realized that except for their tummy aches, the kids were going to be all right, Mrs. Jacobs calmed down, and turned to look at Laura, who obviously felt really bad.
"Laura, you're a nice kid and I know you just wanted to be nice to Chuckie and Amy, but giving them all those brownies made them sick."
"Yeah, I know that now and I'm really sorry. I guess to really be nice to people sometime you have to do things that seem mean."
Q. How did Laura feel at first when she was giving the kids all those brownies?
A. She thought that be doing it she was being nice.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized that it would have really been nicer to have said 'no' so they wouldn't have gotten sick.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Laura learned that day?
A. She'd felt that being nice to people meant giving them what they wanted, but she discovered that sometime it's being nicer to people, not to.
Q. How is it possible to know when being what we think is kind, is really being cruel?
A. We should try to look down the road at the results—if by giving someone something or doing what they ask, we would be harming them, ourselves, or others, it's quite likely that kind thing to do would be to say 'no.'
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that 'being kind to the cruel will lead to being cruel to the kind.' How do you understand this idea?
A. A person has to look at the big picture. For instance, on the surface it might seem kind and merciful to pardon a violent criminal or terrorist and free him from jail. However a deeper look will show us that such a person is likely to hurt innocent people if we let him go—therefore freeing him would in fact be an act of cruelty. Additionally, on a spiritual level, once a person skews true values and a clear outlook by being inappropriately kind, his lack of ethical clarity will likely cause him to eventually act inappropriately cruel.
Q. What if being kind to someone would mean being unkind toward ourselves—what takes priority?
A. It takes balance. If doing something for someone else causes us a minor inconvenience, most likely we should nevertheless help. If however what someone asks of us involves serious harm or compromise of our values, we should know that it is no act of kindness to do it and we come first.