Something For Nothing
Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )
Nothing happens "for nothing." Most things that happen to us in life are the result of choices that we have made somewhere down the line.
In this week's Torah portion God teaches this lesson to the Jewish people. He describes the pleasant results that will come from making responsible and wise choices, as well as the unpleasant consequences of failing to do so.
We can carry this lesson into our own lives, when we choose to act according to proper values, and when we realize that we are likely to experience the consequences of the choices that we make.
In our story a boy experiences the consequences of his choice.
"THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE"
Randall Stein thought a lot of himself, and not without good reason. He was tall, good-looking, super-bright, and he came from one of the wealthiest and most respected families in town.
Randall didn't hesitate to let his classmates know how much he thought of himself either. If one of the kids in his class would approach him and ask to study with him, Randall would just laugh and shake his head in a way that said, "What a joke! Someone like you wants to study with me?!"
Whenever another boy came to school wearing something new that he was proud of, Randall would be quick to point out to him that the clothes he was wearing were much better and more expensive. If anyone ever tried to tell him that he was hurting people's feelings, Randall would just shrug it off.
One day it was announced at school that the new student government would be forming. Each homeroom was to elect a representative, to be called the "homeroom president."
Of course Randall immediately decided that he was a prime candidate. "After all" he thought, "There's no one in the class nearly as qualified as me!" When Craig Barnes, another boy in the class also decided to run, Randall didn't hide his smirk of pity toward the poor fellow who was foolish enough to take him on.
The next day the class discovered that a large ballot box had been placed at the front of the classroom. Mr. Rothman, the teacher handed each student a special ballot with the two candidate's names printed on it. The teacher told the class to vote by circling the name of their choice and placing the ballot in the box.
As the class began to line up to vote, Randall pushed himself to the front of the line, circled his own name, and placed it in the ballot box. There was no doubt in his mind that he was about to win by a "landslide."
After everyone had voted, the teacher counted up all the ballots and stood up to announce the results. Randall straightened his tie and got ready for his acceptance speech.
"The next class president is ... Craig Barnes."
The class applauded and Randall's jaw dropped. He quickly recovered and ran up to the teacher's desk. "I was robbed! I demand a recount!!" he exclaimed.
Mr. Rothman looked up at the boy and called him aside. In nearly a whisper, the teacher told him, "Randall, we don't need a recount. Craig got 29 votes and you got only 1."
Just then the bell rang and the kids streamed out of the classroom, except for Randall who stayed behind. "It must be a mistake!" he said, nearly hysterical. "Someone cheated! The ballots are wrong ... everyone in this class is stupid ... what rotten luck!"
Mr. Rothman shook his head patiently and sat Randall down next to him. "Would you like my opinion why you lost the election?" he asked the boy.
"Let me ask you," said the teacher "can you honestly say that over this school-year that you've treated your classmates nicely?"
Randall, quiet at first, finally shook his head, "I guess I haven't."
The teacher went on, "So should it surprise you that they didn't want you to represent them?"
"I suppose not," answered the boy.
"It seems to me," concluded the teacher, "that because you never choose your classmates, they didn't choose you."
Randall gathered his books and headed out to his next class. As he thought about the teacher's words, Randall realized that Mr. Rothman was right. And though what happened to him hurt, Randall felt like he had learned an important lesson and resolved to act more nicely in the future.
Q. How did Randall feel when he first lost the election?
A. He wanted to blame others for his loss.
Q. How did he feel after discussing it with the teacher?
A. He realized that his losing was a result of his own decision not to be nicer to his classmates.
Q. In what way was Randall responsible for his own loss?
A. Had Randall treated his classmates nicer and more respectably throughout the school year, they would have wanted to vote for him when it was time for the election, after all he was a very capable boy. But he chose to "put them down," so naturally they didn't want to vote for him.
Q. What life-lesson can we learn from this story?
A. We can learn to carefully consider how our words and actions are going to affect people, and how this may come back to us in the future. We can also understand that if things don't turn out as we hoped, we should not rush to blame others, or to chalk it up to bad luck. Rather we should ask ourselves whether any decisions we might have made could have caused this to happen. And, if the answer to that question is yes, what choices can we make in the future to help things to turn out better next time?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our wise men have revealed to us that God repays a person "measure for measure." How do you understand this concept? How does it relate to our story?
A. God loves us and wants to give us good. But He knows that we will enjoy the good much more if we earn it. The way that we earn this good is by behaving in an upright and good way in our relationships with others and with God. To the degree that we succeed in this, God will ultimately send good things our way. Randall realized this when he was able to link his classmates' rejection of him to the rejection that he had shown them earlier.
Q. How would you explain the human tendency to blame others for their difficulties rather than accepting the responsibility themselves?
A. Difficulties that we experience are generally God's way of prodding us to reflect upon our own behavior and to look for areas in which we can change for the better. Although this is a precious opportunity for anyone seeking personal and spiritual growth, it can be hard work and not particularly comfortable to do. There is, therefore, a strong temptation to avoid the entire process. Pointing the finger at others is a way of doing that. But to do so is a mistake for the spiritual pleasure and deeply felt joy that we will gain from accepting responsibility and growing through our difficulties far outweighs any effort or unpleasantness involved.