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Facing a Bully

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

It isn't pleasant, but there may be times in our lives when we encounter bullies -- people who aren't very nice to us or may even want to harm us. In these situations are we helpless or is there anything we can do to increase the odds of having a happy ending? There sure is! We learn in this week's Torah portion our forefather Jacob's strategy for dealing with his wicked brother Esau. First Jacob prayed to God to protect him and his family. Second, he sent messengers to Esau with pleasant words and valuable gifts, to show Esau that Jacob prefers peace. Third, in case all else fails, Jacob prepared to fight with all his strength if he had to.


In our story, a boy uses Jacob's three-step plan to deal with a bully in his life.


The fish were practically jumping out of the water that day. In fact, Jon and Ethan couldn't remember a better day of fishing at Meadowbrook Pond. But it was getting late so the boys packed up their "catch" onto the backs of their bikes and started heading home.

It was a pleasant ride along the gently curving country roads. But as the boys approached Thompson's farm they began to tense up. Everyone knew about Chuck Thompson, the local bully, and how his favorite pastime was terrorizing anybody with enough gall to ride past his house. Chuck had a big mouth and even bigger muscles and he was known to give anybody who crossed his path a good cursing out -- if they were lucky, and a black eye if they weren't.

As they rode on, Jon noticed Ethan mumbling something under his breath. "You talking to me?" Jon called out.

Ethan smiled. "No, I was just asking God to let us ride safely past Thompson's farm. It's part of my plan."

"Oh. Put in a word for me too, okay?"

As they got closer to Thompson's farm, their hearts sank. Sitting right out on his front porch was Big Chuck holding a baseball bat!

Sure enough, when he noticed the two boys on their bikes, Chuck jumped up and started calling them all sorts of terrible names.

Jon started to turn red with anger. "Ethan, did you hear what he said?! We don't have to take that. You know karate. Let's go put that bully in his place!"

But Ethan motioned to his friend to calm down. "Look if he attacks us, we will have to fight," he whispered. "But I hope it won't come to that. I have a plan..."

With that, the boys slowed down their bikes as they neared Chuck who was by now blocking the road. He seemed to be waiting for the boys to answer back his insults, or try to run away. But to his surprise, Ethan got down off of his bike, waved to him with a really big smile, and said, "Hi Chuck. Thanks for letting us ride by your place. Here's a couple of big fish we just caught as a token of our appreciation. I hope we didn't bother you."

The bully looked their way and scratched his head. He seemed confused. After a moment he put down his baseball bat and came over to take the fish. "No problem," he grumbled. "Thanks for the fish. They sure are a couple of beauties." Chuck paused, and said, "No one has ever given me a present before. Thanks."

The boys mounted their bikes and quickly went on their way.

"Wow, how did you do that?" asked an amazed Jon.

Ethan smiled. "The right prayer, a nice gift, and a clenched fist were all it took."


Ages 3-5

Q. How did the boys feel when the bully came out to face them?
A. They were scared and angry. But Ethan had a plan what to do.

Q. How did they feel after they were able to pass by without a fight?
A. They were grateful to God, and glad they had used their plan.

Ages 6-9

Q. Was Ethan's plan a good one? Why or why not?
A. Ethan understood that they were in an uncomfortable and perhaps dangerous situation. His plan was the best way to face it. By praying, he gave himself and his friend a big spiritual advantage. The kind words and the gift softened the bully up, and made him less angry. The fact that Ethan was ready to fight if he had to gave him the courage to put his plan into action.

Q. If someone insults you, do you think you have to answer back?
A. Not necessarily. Bullies are usually just looking for a good excuse to hurt people. Nothing you will say is likely to help. They aren't interested in intelligent debates. Generally it's better to just ignore them and remember that whatever they say to you doesn't change the good person that you really are.

Q. Why do you think Jon's plan worked?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think that bullies and aggressive people can be reasoned with?
A. Most of us are reasonable people and we would like to think that everyone else is too. But unfortunately there exists in the world people who simply aren't open to listening to reason. Their values are so different from ours that meaningful communication is virtually impossible. With people like this, the age-old strategy of prayer, flattery/bribery, and counter-violence as a last resort is the sanest way to deal with them.

Q. Why do you think that prayer was an important part of Jacob's strategy to deal with his aggressive brother?
A. People tend to underestimate the power of prayer. It is much more than expressing a hope or wishful feeling. Praying to God accesses a powerful spiritual force that can improve our lives and accomplish things that would be otherwise impossible. In fact, our sages comment on the biblical verse "The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau." This is an ancient teaching that while the 'Esau's of the world -- the bullies -- rely on their physical strength and cunning, we, the spiritual descendants of Jacob, have as our main weapon our voice -- prayer. Jacob and the boy in the story knew the value of this weapon and it served them well.

Q. Can you think of a time that you saw your prayers answered?



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