Build Someone's Dignity
Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )
This coming week we commemorate "Tisha b'Av," the day set aside for mourning the tragic destruction of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest site, as well as all later tragedies such as the Holocaust. Our sages teach about the event that led to the destruction of the Holy Temple. A person accidentally invited someone he didn't like to a gathering in his home, and he publicly humiliated him and threw him out. We can learn from here the importance of maintaining people's dignity and how destructive it is to cause anyone shame or humiliation.
In our story, a kid has to choose whether to build someone up - or break him down.
PICKING A WINNER
The campers of Bunk 8 lined up in nervous excitement as they watched Kenny and Jay, older kids, and captains of the two camp Color War teams, marching toward them.
The pair was going from bunk to bunk to choose which kids would be on which side for the exciting 3-day competition, which was the highlight of the summer.
As they stood lined up, the athletic kids were hoping they would be chosen first. The less athletic ones were just happy to play. Then there was Harold...
It wasn't that Harold didn't like sports. It just seemed that sports didn't like him. Balls he was sure he was going to catch just magically ended up bouncing off his head instead, and when he would try to run the bases, his short, heavyset legs would just forget to move - except, of course, the time he got mixed up and ran the bases backwards.
As the two captains approached, they were looking at a list and talking to each other, though nobody could hear what they were saying.
"Look, Harold was on my team last summer and he messed up every game he played in. You take him this time, okay?" said Kenny sharply.
"Forget it!" Jay shot back. "Do you think I want to commit sports suicide?"
"So, what are we going to do?"
"We just won't pick him - that's all," Kenny smirked.
"Neither of us?"
"But are we allowed to do that? Doesn't every kid have to be on a team?"
"Every normal kid. Anyway, I know that kid, he's too shy to say anything and by the time anyone notices he's not playing, Color War will be over! We'll just take turns picking kids and when only Harold is left, we'll just walk away. That way neither of us will have to suffer - deal?"
"Sounds okay to me," Jay answered with a shrug, as they walked up to the lined-up campers who were all jostling for position to catch the captains' attention.
Jay won the coin flip to see who would pick first and he scanned the lineup, trying to decide which talented young athlete to add to his team. As he looked up and down the line, he noticed a ruckus at one end. A couple of the taller boys were laughing and poking a short, heavy that kid he recognized as Harold. He could hear them...
"Hey, doughboy, move back out of the way and let the winners come through," one kid snickered.
"Yeah, a world class loser like you doesn't have to worry about getting picked for a long, long time - if at all! Ha, ha, ha!"
Jay saw Harold's face turn red in shame, his eyes seemingly just seconds away from bursting into tears. Little did the kid know that the humiliation he was feeling now was nothing compared to what he would feel like in another few minutes after he and Kenny walked away leaving him unpicked and the laughingstock of his bunk - and once the word spread - the whole camp.
"Come on, Jay, pick already. We've got three more bunks to go!" Kenny shouted.
"Okay! Give me a second will you!" Jay shot back. Trying to forget about Harold, he looked over the guys to decide. Pete could run really fast, but Ed was as strong as an ox. He wanted to choose well - this was Color War after all and there was nothing more important. Or was there?
"For my first choice..." Jay said, clearing his throat, "I choose... Harold!"
For a moment, it seemed the whole world went silent as the campers' mouths dropped open and from the corner of his eye, Jay could see Kenny shaking his head. Even Harold didn't seem to believe it at first. As Jay waved him forward, the boy was smiling bigger and brighter than if he'd won the grand prize of the lottery.
"Welcome to the team, Harold!" Jay beamed.
Although Jay wasn't sure that he'd made the winning Color War choice, he was 100% certain he'd made one of the best choices of his life.
Q. How did Jay feel at first about picking Harold?
A. He didn't want to pick him because he wasn't a good athlete.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He was happy that he picked him and didn't hurt his feelings.
Q. What life lesson do you think Jay learned that day?
A. He always felt that winning was the most important thing in life, but he learned that how we treat others is much more important.
Q. Why do you think Jay thought he'd made one of the best choices in his life by picking Harold?
A. When he saw the pain on Harold's face and realized how much more pain he was about to cause him, Jay realized that there is little in life more important than not humiliating another person.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages equated humiliating someone with murdering him, how do you understand this?
A. Humiliating someone, in a sense, 'kills' his self-esteem and can cause him pain his entire lifetime. A spiritual person would no sooner humiliate someone than he would commit murder.
Q. Do you think it's acceptable to humiliate someone as long as it's a joke? Why or why not?
A. Even things said as obvious jokes can cause great pain. We should try to develop a sense of humor that uplifts and doesn't put down.