Being Honest

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )

We wish that everyone would treat us the way they should. But it doesn't always turn out that way. We may feel cheated. Does that give us the right to cheat back? In our Torah portion Jacob spent 20 miserable years working for Laban, the deceiver. This wicked man tried every trick in the book to cheat Jacob out of everything that was rightfully coming to him. Yet we learn that not only did Jacob never try to cheat Laban back, but he went out of his way to be super-honest with every little detail of his job. We learn from Jacob the importance of doing the right thing, for its own sake -- just because it's right.


In our story a girl fights the temptation to "cheat back" when she feels cheated.


The Emmet School's class trip didn't exactly work out as planned.

It rained when it was supposed to be sunny. It was sunny when it was supposed to rain.

Their tour bus broke down three (!) times.

But the kids tried to stay in good spirits. After all, they still had the highlight of the trip to look forward to: a night at the elegant four-star Hotel Elegante.

The brochure they had received described big spacious rooms with breathtaking views, an indoor swimming pool, and a world-class international restaurant.

But when they got there they were in for a surprise. The rooms they stayed in were spacious -- if you wanted a closet, that is. The swimming pool was "closed for repairs." And the food ... well, it made the school cafeteria seem gourmet in comparison.

The next morning, Alison and her friend Nancy, with whom Alison had been sharing a room, were packing their suitcases for the trip home.

"Well, one good thing about this place is that we're leaving," said Alison, as she folded her sweater.

"Yeah," said Nancy. "This wasn't exactly the four-star experience we had hoped for."

"Four stars!? I wouldn't even rate it a half-moon!" quipped her friend. The girls laughed.

Just then the phone rang. It was a call from the desk asking for someone from each room to come sign the check-out form. "I'll go," offered Nancy. "I'm finished packing anyway."

Nancy walked out of the room, almost tripping on the torn carpeting. Alison heard the door click behind her friend.

She was taking one last look around the room to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything, when she happened to notice a towel folded neatly next to the shower. "Did Nancy forget this?" she asked herself.

Alison held the towel in her hand. It was big, fluffy and pink. The name "Hotel Elegante -- An Elegant 4-Star Hotel" was embroidered across the side. "This towel is the only elegant thing about this place," Alison muttered.

She was about to put it down, then she thought "Hey, here's my chance to get back at this dumb hotel. After all, they really took us for a ride and didn't give us nearly the service we deserved ... and paid for! At least I'll be able to take home a souvenir."

She quickly took the fluffy pink towel, folded it, and stuffed it deep down into her suitcase. She zippered up her bag and was about to go down to the lobby to meet her friend. But the bag seemed strangely heavy to her. Heavier than it should have been by adding one little towel.

Alison realized it was her conscience that seemed to add on that weight. "Wait a minute," she thought. "Do I really have a right to take this towel? True, the hotel didn't treat us right, and I would never come here again. But still, stealing is stealing. If I take this, I am no better than they are."

Alison opened up her suitcase, took out that towel and flung it on the bed behind her as she walked out of the room. "Let them keep their silly towel," she told herself, feeling much better. "At least I'm going to do what's right."

Heading out to meet her friend, she picked up her suitcase, which seemed to feel much lighter now.


Ages 3-5

Q. Why did Alison want to take the hotel's towel when she first saw it?
A. She was very mad at the hotel because it wasn't a nice place to stay, so she wanted to take the towel to get even.

Q. How did she feel after she put the towel in her suitcase?
A. She stopped herself when she realized that really it would be wrong to take it. It would make her just as bad as the hotel. So she took it out, and felt really good about doing the right thing.

Ages 6-9

Q. Can you think of a time when you felt like getting even? What did you do?

Q. When we find ourselves dealing with somebody who "breaks the rules" of what's right and wrong, are we then justified to also break the rules in order not to lose out?
A. It may seem tempting to do so. After all, we're not being any worse than the other guy. But really we should always try to do what is right. We will become better people for it, and in the end everybody gets what is coming to them anyway.

Q. Do you think Alison would have really felt better about her experience at the hotel had she taken the towel home? Why or why not?
A. She felt cheated by the hotel. They didn't treat her right. But cheating them by taking a towel wouldn't do anything to help her situation. In fact she would just end up feeling bad about herself for stooping so low. The true way to feel better after such experiences is to act properly and feel gratified that we haven't fallen to the level of the one who "wronged" us.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Is there a difference whether one steals from an individual or a large corporation, a rich man or a poor man, a large amount or a small, etc.?
A. On the one hand, it certainly would hurt a poor person if his life savings were stolen more than it would hurt a billion dollar corporation to lose a pencil. But there really is no true difference. Stealing is wrong regardless of the effect it has on the one stolen from. The Torah prohibits the act of stealing whether it is from a poor man or a rich man. One who refrains from stealing elevates himself spiritually; one who steals, lowers himself. Whether the one stolen from is hurt or not isn't really relevant.

Q. Can there be a type of theft when nothing physical is stolen?
A. The Torah refers to a type of stealing called geneivat da-at literally "stealing someone's mind" as a form of theft. This is describing deceit, when one person fools another by concealing his true intentions. An example of this would be going into a store and pretending to be interested in buying something when one really has no intention to do so. There is also a concept of "stealing sleep," if one is noisy when someone else is trying to sleep, he's actually stealing sleep from the other person. The Torah guides us how to grow very sensitive to others in ways we may never have imagined.


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