The Right Intentions
Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )
The two sons of Aaron, the High Priest, had the best of intentions when they went into the Tabernacle and chose to make an offering to God that they thought would be good to offer even though God, through Moses, had asked them not to do so. Yet, despite their intentions, the consequences of their actions were quite negative. We can learn from here that even good intentions don't justify doing something improper.
In our story a couple of kids find out that what seems like a good idea at the time sometimes isn't.
After a long, cold winter, spring had finally sprung and the world began to wake up. In the Kaplan household springtime meant gardening time and Joel and Jeremy, the Kaplan twins, excitedly dug out the hoes, spades, rakes and shovels from the corner of the garage where they had been hibernating all winter. They brought them to their father, who was standing by the fence with a ball of string and a measuring stick in his hand.
"Thanks, boys," he said. "I'm going to drive to the plant store to pick up the vegetable flats for us to plant. While I'm gone, you guys can start digging."
Joel and Jeremy each grabbed a spade and enthusiastically started to swing them. "Whoa, not so fast guys," laughed their dad. "I didn't tell you where to dig yet. Now look carefully. I marked out with string on the ground exactly where we need to put the garden. You can dig anywhere within the stringed-in area, but it's very important not to dig anywhere else. You got it, guys? Dig only within the string, okay?"
The boys nodded impatiently, and before their father had even left the driveway they were already hard at work.
The digging went quickly as both Joel and Jeremy were big, athletic kids and were really getting into the fun and good workout of smashing the hard steel spades into the soft ground and watching the dirt fly all over the place. Soon enough they got to the end of the stringed in area, put down their spades and had a cool drink from their water bottles.
"That was easy, huh?" said Jeremy.
"Yeah, I hardly even broke a sweat," Joel agreed.
"Me neither. Hey, you know what I'm thinking?"
As twins, they actually did usually know what the other was thinking. "Yeah, let's give Dad a surprise and make him an extra big garden this year."
"I know Dad said only to dig up until here, but I bet he said that just because he didn't want us to work too hard. He'll be thrilled when he sees that we were able to do even more. What do you say?"
"I say let's dig!"
The boys began swinging their spades even faster than before, and with all the noise and flying dirt, they didn't notice that their spades were starting to make a funny clinking sound as they dug into the ground. But after Jeremy took one of his mighty swings, the twins got a big surprise as a big gush of water started shooting out of the ground like a fountain.
"Hey, maybe we struck oil," Joel said excitedly.
Then they took a better look. "This isn't oil – it's water! But where did it come from?"
Their answer was not long in coming. "Oh no! What happened here?" Mr. Kaplan yelled as he ran out of his car. In all the commotion, the boys hadn't even noticed he had returned.
"Um, Dad, we don't know. We were just digging like you said, and..."
"Like I said? I told you to stay within the string and you must be ten feet outside of it! Do you realize what you did? This water is coming from the very expensive underground sprinkler system I put in last year that is now smashed to pieces! It's not going to be cheap to fix, and it's coming out of your allowances."
"But Dad, that's not fair!" protested Joel. "I'm sorry it broke, but we didn't break it on purpose."
"Yeah," added Jeremy. "We wanted to give you a surprise by making the garden bigger."
Mr. Kaplan turned off the water main, and with the geyser no longer gushing, everyone began to calm down.
"Listen, boys. I know you didn't break it purposely, and I also realize that you were trying to do me a favor..."
"So that means we don't have to pay?" asked Jeremy.
"No, you still have to pay for the damage."
"But why? You just said..."
"I know what I said," Mr. Kaplan said in a calm voice, "but I also said to you very clearly before exactly where to dig and where not to, just to prevent what happened from happening. Your intentions were good, but you still chose not to honor what I clearly asked you not to do, and you have to face the consequences of that choice. You can pay it off a little at a time, but you have to pay it off. Do you understand, boys?"
The twins looked at each other. What could they say? Their dad was right. "Okay Dad, we understand," Jeremy said. "I guess it's only a favor to do what someone asks you to do, and not what they ask you not to do."
"Yeah," added Joel with a smile, "or else you can end up all wet."
Q. How did the boys feel at first about digging where their dad told them not to dig?
A. They felt like it was okay, and since they were doing something good for their dad they didn't have to listen.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They realized that helping someone means doing what he asks you to do and not whatever you feel like doing.
Q. What lesson did the boys learn from what happened?
A. They found out that although having good intentions is a great thing, it does not relieve a person from being responsible if he doesn't do as he's asked and does something wrong.
Q. Let's say the boys wouldn't have broken a pipe. Would that have made their actions okay?
A. Whether they did any damage or not isn't really the point. Rather, they should have respected their father's clear request and done as he asked, even though they felt they had a better idea.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is it ever in order to do more for people than they ask?
A. Certainly, and it's a wonderful trait. However, in a case such as in the story, and the Torah Portion, when we are specifically requested not to do something, we shouldn't take the attitude that 'we know better' and go against the asker's wishes.
Q. Who do you think has done the greater act, one who does something for someone voluntarily because he wants to do it, or because he is told he has to do it? Why?
A. We might think the first case is greater, but our sages teach us that it is really the second. It is human nature to balk at doing something we are told we must, and one who overcomes this resistance has accomplished a spiritual feat of strength.