Facing a Bully

June 24, 2009

5 min read


Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

Nobody likes dealing with bullies, but sometimes there is no choice in the matter. In this week's Torah portion, Jacob had to contend with the bullying of Esau. When a person faces a bully, it's important to stand tall on the inside and not let the bully lessen our self-esteem.

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In our story, a couple of kids get a new perspective on bullies.


Mark and Barry were taking their usual walk home from school together, shooting the breeze.

"Yeah, so, I figure when I get home, first I'll listen to some..."

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a big rotten tomato flew at them and smashed just inches from their feet, sliming up their sneakers and pants cuffs.

"Whoa! What's going on?" Mark yelped. It didn't take the guys long to find out.

"Hey, pinheads! What's a matter? You got your pants dirty? Hah, hah, hah!!!" It was Alex, the neighborhood bully and his no-less-obnoxious buddy, Hal, standing across the street.

Meanwhile, Barry's face had turned as red as the tomato bomb that had exploded in their path and he'd bent down to grab something - a stick, a rock, whatever he could find - to throw back at them, when he felt an arm straightening him back up.

"Forget it, man. Let's just keep going," Mark said in a quiet but firm voice.

"What do you mean?" Barry blubbered, glancing over at the pair of guffawing bullies who looked like they were just aching for a fight. "We can't just let those guys rag on us like that! Don't you have any self-respect?"

"I have plenty," Mark said as he dragged his friend out of firing and fighting range. "But I also have a brain in my head and in case you didn't notice, those guys are two grades older than us and twice our size."

"So what?" Barry squirmed half-heartedly to get out of Mark's grip. He knew his friend was right - and he hadn't even mentioned the brass knuckle and other nasty stuff those guys always had on them.

"I don't know." Barry sighed as they walked on. "Maybe fighting - even if we do get beaten up - is better than letting them make us feel like such losers."

"Who said we have to feel like losers?" Mark challenged.

"Oh, come on! How can we have any self-respect after..."

WOOF! WOOF! WOOOF!!! The boys jumped back as a huge, black dog ran at them from the yard they were passing. Fortunately, the dog was on a chain and came up about ten feet short of the yard's fence.

"Wow, that's some mean dog. Let's get out of here!" Barry said.

But he was surprised to see Mark standing firm with his arms crossed. "What do you mean, 'get going'? We can't let him get away with yelling at us like that! Let's yell back - or maybe fight him. Where's your self-respect, man?"

Barry stared at his friend, who seemed to have lost his mind.

"What are you talking about? It's just a dog barking at us. It doesn't have anything to do with our self-respect or who we are."

Suddenly Mark uncrossed his arms and his angry scowl melted into a grin.

"Bingo! And neither does the 'barking' of Alex or other no-brainers like him have anything to do with who we are. Self-respect means just that - respecting ourselves - and nobody can take that away unless we give it to them. Get it?"

Barry shrugged then laughed. "Yeah, I guess you just knocked some sense into me...and you didn't even need brass knuckles."

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Barry feel about the bullies at first?
A. He felt he had to fight them to feel good about himself.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like their bullying wasn't any different than a barking dog and that they couldn't make him feel bad.

Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Barry learned that day?
A. He'd felt that the way people treat us is what gives us our self-respect and that people like bullies take it away from us. But Mark had helped him realize that self-respect isn't dependent on anyone outside of ourselves and that nobody can take it away.

Q. Do you think Barry would have felt better about himself if he had fought the bullies?
A. Well, besides that fact that he might have wound up in the hospital - even if by some miracle he had won - he wouldn't have felt better, at least in the long run. He still would have been letting his self-respect depend on others and nobody can stay happy that way for very long.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Is there anything that can take away someone's self-respect?
A. Our self-respect exists in proportion to what extent we are living by true and healthy values. If we lose sight of these, our self-respect can slip - but the good news is we can get it back by getting our act together and living right.

Q. Is there ever time to fight a bully?
A. Though we should do our best to avoid fights, if we get backed into a corner or if we'll be in serious danger if we don't - we may have no choice. But even if we fight - and even if we win - we should remember our self-respect comes from God alone and not by out-bullying bullies.

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