Being Humble

June 23, 2009

5 min read


Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

In this week's Torah Portion, Moses shows us one of the things that made him great. When his father-in-law, Jethro, criticizes him over something and suggests a way to do things better, Moses doesn't get offended. Even though he was more learned than Jethro and a great world leader, Moses calmly thinks about the idea, decides Jethro was right, and accepts his criticism and advice. We can learn from Moses how to be humble and accept the truth, wherever it comes from.


In our story, a kid faces the challenge of accepting criticism and putting the truth before his pride.


I don't know why they call it baby-sitting - if it were up to me I would rename it baby-chasing, because after an hour and a half of substituting for my sister in her afternoon playgroup, I was ready to collapse. You wouldn't believe how much energy these little kids have! I'm a pretty active guy myself, but compared to them, I felt like an old man.

The only thing that kept me going was the clock on the wall, and knowing that in just another few minutes it was going to be nap-time, when everyone would put his head down on his desk and rest quietly for 20 minutes. I wasn't really sure if any of these Duracell kids needed recharging, but I was SURE I did and I counted the seconds until I could grab a little peace and quiet.

To wind them into their naps, I sat everybody in a big circle and told them what I hoped would be a bedtime story. I improvised and told them some things I had learned in Torah class that day about Moses, that even though he was the great leader of the Jewish people, he was willing to listen to Jethro's criticism and even change his ways when he thought his criticism was true. I admit, I had one eye on the clock, and timed my story to finish right on time for them to rest.

"Okay kids, now we'll all put our heads down for a little nap. Remember we have to all be per-fect-ly quiet until the timer goes off."

I was amazed. They were actually starting to do it! I sat back, grabbed a school book to catch up on my homework, and felt my own eyes starting to grow deliciously heavy. Maybe the 'teacher' would take a little nap himself.

Just then I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was Brian, one of the most jumpy of all the little jumping beans in the group. "Now Brian, you know it's nap-time now, you must go back to your desk," I said, trying to hide the tension in my voice.

"No it's not!" he said. "It's not nap time until later. Now it's snack time. You're supposed to give us cookies and juice."

I couldn't believe it. I had finally settled these little dynamos down, and this punk was suggesting that instead I start pumping them all back up with sugar!

"Now Brian," I said firmly, "no more trouble. Go put your head down on your desk right now."

But the kid wouldn't budge. "No, I just learned how to tell time, and I know it's not nap time until later!"

I was sure he was trying to pull a fast one on the sub, but just to make sure, I turned and pulled the small schedule out of my pocket my sister had given me, and took a quick glance at it. I couldn't believe it. The kid was actually right! I had misread the schedule; it really was snack time. Nap time wasn't for another 45 minutes!

I looked at the nearly-settled play group, I looked at Brian and started getting angry. What a nerve this kid had ... who was he to tell me what to do ... I was more than twice his age.

"You know what, Brian..." I could see him getting scared and I was about to send him into the next room and maybe even threaten to call his mother if he didn't tow the line. After all who knew better? They were the little kids, I was the big kid; they were my flock, and I was their leader just like Moses. 'Just like Moses...' I got a lump in my stomach as I remembered the story I had just finished telling them about how Moses didn't get upset when someone told him he was wrong. He only cared about doing what was right. And what about me? I took a deep breath.

"You know what Brian ... you're right. The cookies are in the closet. Could you please bring them to me?"

He flashed a big smile, happy he could tell the time.

"Nap-time's in a while guys. Everybody line up for your snacks," I said.

All the kids popped up like Jack-in-the-boxes. I put my book in the drawer, and grabbed a couple of cookies myself for a boost. The rest of the afternoon went really well - even nap time, once it finally happened. I still looked forward to giving the job back to my sister the next day, but felt good that I accepted Brian's comment. Even though I was supposed to be the teacher, I think I learned the biggest lesson of all.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did the teenager in the story feel when little Brian first told him he had made a mistake?
A. He felt like since he was older he didn't have to listen even if what Brian said was right.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt that like Moses - he should do what's right, no matter who told him.

Ages 6-9

Q. What did the older boy in the story discover from the events that happened?
A. He discovered how not to let his feelings of being upset or embarrassed stop him from accepting constructive criticism and changing his behavior when necessary.

Q. Why was it so hard for him to accept the criticism at first?
A. Nobody enjoys being told he made a mistake. It's even harder when the one who tells him is younger than he is, or supposed to know less than he does. However, the greater a person is, the happier he'll be to find out about any mistakes he has made so he can change things for the better.

Q. Can you think of a time someone told you that you were making a mistake? How did it make you feel? Did you accept the criticism?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Our sages teach that one of the signs of a wise person is that he loves rebuke. What do you think this means?
A. A wise person became that way because he loves wisdom so much that he's willing to pay nearly any price to acquire it. When he is rebuked and discovers he has done something wrong, he isn't offended. On the contrary, he's thrilled because now he has a chance to change, and become even wiser. To him it's much more important to actually do what is right than to appear as if he's always right.

Q. What distinguishes constructive criticism from the destructive kind?
A. It is a question of whether we are criticizing someone to build him up (as in construction) or to knock him down. Do we genuinely want to help the person we are criticizing or is it just an excuse to make ourselves feel bigger at his expense? The first type is an act of kindness; the second, one of the cruelest acts there is.

Q. Can you think of a time someone told you that you were making a mistake? How did it make you feel? Did you accept the criticism?


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