Working or Shirking?

July 4, 2010

5 min read


Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )

When it comes to work, we shouldn't shirk. In this week's Torah portion (Num. 32:6) Moses reprimands some of the tribes who asked to avoid joining in the effort, with the rest of the people, to move into the Land of Israel. We should be willing do our share in a group effort and not seek to 'get out of it.'

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In our story, a kid discovers that sometimes it feels better to work than to shirk.


Benny leaned back in the makeshift hammock he'd made for himself from his rain poncho and the shoelaces of his hiking boots and congratulated himself for his quick thinking.

He and his bunkmates had hiked for over two hours to get to the campsite for their overnight trip, and the last thing Benny felt like doing after that was working hard pitching the tents and gathering wood for the campfire.

But that's just what the counselor had said they all had to pitch in and do, and it looked like there was no way for Benny to get out of it, until he came up with the brilliant idea of faking a twisted ankle at the last moment.

Of course the counselor and other kids had felt bad for him. So now, while everyone else was chugging around like busy beavers in a brook, he was happily off the hook taking it easy and 'resting his leg.'

"How you feeling, Ben?" Steve asked sympathetically, as he walked by tugging a big, heavy, dried-out log.

"Huh?" the boy asked, not sure what he meant - then he remembered, he must mean about my 'twisted' ankle.

"Um, it's still sore, but it's getting there. Sorry I can't help. Thanks for asking," he smiled weakly, feeling a little uncomfortable seeing his friend - who wasn't even as strong as he was - working so hard.

In fact, as Benny looked around, he noticed that everyone was working hard - except him, that is. Some kids, like Steve, were hauling wood from the forest and piling it up in the center of the campsite. Some were breaking off pieces of kindling, others clearing away rocks, and still others filling up buckets of water from the nearby stream.

Not far from him, he noticed a couple of the guys trying to slip the canvas tents over their aluminum frame, with little success. Each time they would grab onto one side, the other side would immediately fall. They looked really frustrated.

"Okay Jon, let's try it one more time. This tent has got to go up eventually doesn't it?" Ed asked, sweating.

"I don't know what to do, it just keeps slipping!"

Benny could clearly see that all they needed was an extra pair of hands to support the middle and the tents would go up fine. But no one's hands were free since everyone else was hard at work too... well, almost everybody...

"Here guys - I'll hold the center up and it should go 1-2-3."

"Hey thanks, Benny," Jon smiled. "Yeah, I think that's gonna do it. But wait a minute - aren't you supposed to be resting your twisted ankle?"

"I, um, rested it enough. So now my ankle's un-twisted," he replied, surprised that he was actually feeling good to be part of the team effort, thinking to himself that what he really had un-twisted was the not-straight way he'd been trying to get out of doing his share of the job.


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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Benny feel at first about not helping out?
A. He felt good that he'd figured out a way to get out of it.

Q. How did he feel afterwards?
A. That it wasn't right not to help when everyone else was, and was glad he joined in.


Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Benny learned that day?
A. He'd thought he was being smart by finding a way out of joining together with everyone else in doing a job, but he realized that the right thing to do - and the thing that made him feel better - was being willing to pitch in.

Q. Was Benny 'hurting' anybody by not doing his share?
A. Since he wasn't helping, everyone else had to work harder, so in a sense, his decision was hurting them.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our sages teach that a person shouldn't separate him or herself from one's group or society. How do you think that idea could be applied to this story?
A. It is a positive value to take a caring, participatory attitude toward communal needs and be willing to exert oneself the greater communal good. Benny, in the story, came to recognize that shirking doing his share wasn't right.

Q. Are there times when it is positive to 'get out' of group participation?
A. If a group is engaging in a negative, harmful activity and especially if one's non-participation won't cause other group members to suffer, opting out may well be the right option. Other than that, however, we should be willing to pitch in.


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