Behind Their Backs
Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )
Backstabbing - talking bad about people behind their backs - is wrong. In this week's portion (27:24, see Rashi) we see that this is such an important matter that it was one of the special 12 commandments that entire nation took upon themselves when they first came into the Land of Israel.
In our story, a kid with a choice of backstabbing has to decide whether or not to take the plunge.
Jan had a spring in her step as she walked down the hall to the school auditorium for the first day of after-school drama club. She was starting her third year in the club and she had high hopes that Mrs. Kaufman, the director, was going to appoint her assistant director of the big production.
She turned the hallway corner and ... whoosh ... almost got knocked over by Cindy, who was bounding the other way.
"Oh, sorry, Jan!" the kid, one grade younger than her, said. "I know I should watch where I'm going but my head is in the clouds."
"What's up?" Jan asked the girl, who was smiling as brightly as if she'd swallowed one of the auditorium's halogen stage lights.
"I just spoke to Mrs K. And she told me that she was 99 percent sure I was going to be assistant director for the first show! She said..."
Jan froze a plastic smile on her face as the kid went on a couple of more chirpy sentence before fluttering down the hall. But Jan hadn't heard a word because her head was buzzing like a smoke alarm, vacuum cleaner and whirring blender all put together.
How could this have happened! she thought. How could this kid have just waltzed off with the prize I'd been counting on all summer?
The last 50 feet to the auditorium felt like 50 miles. Part of her just wanted to turn around and quit the whole thing, but she just loved drama club too much.
"Hi Jan!" Mrs. Kaufman, holding her signature oversized clipboard flashed her warm smile. "I'm so happy to see you."
Jan nodded coolly as the young woman went on.
"There's something I want to discuss with you. I'm thinking about appointing Cindy Reid as assistant director this season, but since you know her well I just wanted to check with you first if you know any reason why she would be a bad choice?"
Jan didn't know whether to be outraged that the director had the gall to just casually ask her something she had to know would hurt ... or to be thrilled that she now had a chance to put that upstart Cindy in her place and get back the place she deserved as assistant director.
The wheels of Jan's mind were spinning faster than the tires of a stuck-on-the-ice SUV. She knew just what Mrs. Kaufman liked and didn't like and it wouldn't take more than a sentence or two to send Cindy permanently to the sidelines.
"Well, as a matter of fact..." Jan said ... then she paused. How could I stab Cindy in the back like this? True, I want to get the assistant director job almost more than anything ... but I don't want to get it this way.
"...um, as a matter of fact, she happens to be great!" Jan smiled. "She knows her stuff and I'm sure she'd help make the play a hit."
"Then she's in. I'm glad you're going to have a good assistant," Mrs. Kaufman smiled.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Oh, I can't believe I forgot to tell you! I got a job with a professional theatre company this semester and won't have time also to direct the club play. So ... if you accept it, I'd like you to take my place and be director of the school play!"
Jan almost fell over from the shock of the unbelievably good news ... and from the relief that she hadn't stabbed Cindy in the back.
Q. How did Jan feel when Ms. Kaufman first asked her about Cindy?
A. She felt jealous and wanted to say something bad about her.
Q. How did she feel afterward?
A. She felt it was wrong to talk badly so she didn't.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jan learned?
A. To get ahead, she'd been tempted to 'stab her friend in the back' by speaking badly of her to the club director, but she held herself back and in the end, not only did she do the right thing - but she ended up with more than she hoped for.
Q. If Jan had really known of a reason why Cindy wasn't a good choice, do you think she should have revealed it when the director asked her opinion?
A. It depends. If it was a very serious reason that could have harmed the club, perhaps so - as long as she didn't exaggerate. But here, since there wasn't any real problem and her motivation would have been to just take her place, speaking badly of Cindy would have been cruel - and wrong.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think it's worse to speak badly of someone in front of him or behind his back? Why?
A. Well, neither is good! We should speak well of others. But at least speaking in front of someone gives him a chance to defend himself, etc. Backstabbing is sneaky and cowardly.
Q. Do you think people get ahead by 'backstabbing'?
A. While it may look like it, in the long run, such un-spiritual behavior not only causes the perpetrator to lose out spiritually, but materially as well. We should treat others kindly and trust God to bring us where we need to go.