Other People's Things.
Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )
Should I care how I treat somebody else's stuff? The Torah's answer is 'Yes.' In this week's Torah portion, we learn guidelines about how to properly treat other's property and how to take responsibility if we don't.
In our story, a kid finds out why other people's things matter.
Janet was staying after school. She was a basically good kid, but with a wild streak, that occasionally got her into trouble and caused her to put in a little 'extra time.'
Sometimes she'd be bored, sitting alone like a stone during these 45 minute detention sessions, but today she had a couple of 'partners in crime' - her pals, Sue and Alice.
The three of them sat more or less quietly, occasionally bursting into a round of giggles, at their desks - that is until the monitor left the room to do something - and they bounced out of their desks to stretch their legs and explore the room for whatever treasures there were to be found.
"Look what I just found on the floor! One of those gross homework workbooks we all just had to shell out money to buy!" Alice exclaimed.
"Yuck! Who's is it?"
"Don't know. Probably the school just has some extra ones lying around, or somebody didn't care enough about it to take it home," Alice shrugged, tossing the book in the air like a frisbee.
"Oh, yeah?" smiled Sue as she scooped it up off the floor. "Now at least we have something to do. Let's have some fun, filling it in..."
"You call doing homework 'fun'?" Alice frowned.
"Who said anything about homework? I meant for once, filling in one of these dumb books with whatever funny pictures and answers we feel like!" Sue explained. She plucked a felt tip pen from her pouch and started scribbling on the pages.
"Want a try, Janet?" Alice said after taking her turn, flipping the by-now wrinkly book her way.
Janet caught it. Should I be doing this? she thought to herself, It's really ruining an expensive workbook. But then again, why not have some fun? Like Alice said, it's probably just the school's or something...
Janet was a pretty talented artist, so her friends egged her on as she made mashed potatoes out of math problems, gibberish out of geometry and jabberwocky out of algebra.
Janet was really getting into it, and as she reached into her school bag to bring out some colored markers she always carried with her to improve her masterpieces, she noticed that her bag had somehow gotten a big hole in it. She fished around to make sure her wallet and stuff hadn't fallen out. Whew! they hadn't. But still, the bag somehow seemed emptier than usual... Hey wait a minute!
Janet quickly flipped to the first page of the workbook she'd been 'decorating' and shrieked.
"You guys both owe me big money! That's my workbook you destroyed! It's not right!"
Though her eyes were shooting fiery arrows, neither of her friends were ducking.
"Hey, Janet - we're sorry about that," Alice said "But in case you don't remember, you were also a big part of this scheme. And how come it was all right with you before we found out it's your book, and now all of the sudden it isn't?"
Janet didn't have an answer for her, but she did have a brand new feeling about how she should - and shouldn't - treat property from now on, no matter whose it is.
Q. How did Janet feel at first about ruining the workbook?
A. She didn't care, because it wasn't hers.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. When she found out it was hers, she was mad and realized it was wrong to ruin it, even if it wasn't hers.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Janet learned that day?
A. She hadn't been sensitive to the need to respect other people's property, but once she realized the book had been her own, and saw how upset she felt, she decided to be more careful in the future.
Q. Do you think that if the book had belonged to the school, it would have been all right to treat it the way they did?
A. Regardless of whether something is public or private property, we should treat it properly and with care.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think a person has the ethical right to wantonly destroy his or her own property? Why or why not?
A. Even if something belongs to us, it is still a gift from God and therefore we should treat it with respect.
Q. Do you think monetary and property laws, etc. have anything to do with being holy?
A. Being holy doesn't mean being apart from the world, rather being involved with the world, but in an elevated way. Therefore, certainly acting fairly and ethically with ours and other's property is a big indicator of how holy we are.