Take Responsibility

June 23, 2009

5 min read


Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

This week's Torah portion teaches that a person who hurts another or damages someone's property must take full responsibility and pay him for what he's done. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes does things that aren't right. When that happens, the right thing to do is not to try to get off the hook, but to own up and face the consequences of our actions.


In our story a kid has to decide what's more important, truth - or consequences.


Jeff Sharp was having a lot of trouble sleeping. It was because he was so excited about the big trip he was taking the next day. He'd been waiting all year for the annual family get-together at their aunt and uncle's vacation home on the lake. They would be spending a great day of speed-boating, snorkeling, food and fun.

As he lay in bed late at night, his mouth was feeling dry so he decided to get up and have a cold drink. The house was so quiet. He walked by his big brother, Steve's, room. Usually it was impossible to go by Steve without his brother insulting him or punching him. But now even Steve, like everyone else in the house, including his parents, were fast asleep.

In the kitchen, he finished a glass of orange juice and got ready to trek back up to his room, when a delicious smell tickled his nose. Investigating, he discovered its source: a still-warm tray of the most amazing looking brownies he'd ever seen. His mom had been talking for days about these special double-fudge, triple-crunch cluster bars she was making to bring for everyone at the next day's festivities - and warning he and his siblings over and over again NOT to touch them.

Jeff was an obedient kind of kid - not like his wild brother, Steve - so with his mom's warning still ringing in his ears, he put the napkin back over the tray and turned to go, when a little voice inside told him that nobody would mind, or even notice, if he just tasted the smallest little piece that was sticking to the corner of the baking pan and anyway couldn't be served.

He popped the little piece in his mouth. Wow! It tasted even better than it looked. Maybe just another tiny smidge...

Before Jeff knew it, three quarters of the tray was gone and he was in a panic! His mom was going to really hit the roof when she woke up and even worse - his parents were probably going to punish him by making him stay home and miss the outing!

He briefly considered trying to spread out the rest of the brownies to make the tray look full, but realized there was no way it would work. So he did the only sensible thing he could - he dove under his blankets and tried to disappear.

Morning came sooner than Jeff had hoped and sure enough he could hear his mother's angry voice from downstairs all the way from his room.

"I can't believe he did this! After all my work! There is no way I can bring this tiny bit of crumbs that are left to the gathering."

Then he heard his dad say firmly, "Well to learn his lesson I think he will just stay home today."

Oh no! They were really going to make me stay home! Jeff thought to himself.

Then his dad continued. "Steve has broken the rules one time too many. As soon as he wakes up and comes downstairs, I'll speak to him."

Jeff couldn't believe it. They thought Steve did it. He was off the hook! He knew his brother; as soon as they accused him he would get all angry and just run into his room and slam the door. His parents would probably never even find out it was really him.

Jeff felt like dancing. He wasn't going to get in trouble; he was going to get to go to the outing - and he wouldn't even have to deal with his rowdy brother all day! He jumped out of bed, not even feeling tired after staying up most of the night and started packing for the trip. Let's see, swimming trunks, snorkel...

Then he started to think about Steve. He would miss out on a great day for no fault of his own. Plus he'd feel really bad that mom and dad thought he did it - he gets into trouble so much already. But on the other hand, how could he face his parents... and miss out on the trip? But on the other hand, he really did eat the brownies and maybe it was only fair that he'd have to pay the price...

"I'm really sorry, Mom. It wasn't Steve, it was me. I don't know how I did it - but somehow I did. So," Jeff sighed, "I guess I'm the one who has to stay home."

He glanced up from his hanging head and saw his parents looking at each other. They looked surprised and kind of angry, but kind of not angry too. His mom spoke.

"Look, Jeff," she said, "it was really wrong of you to eat them after I told you not to." Jeff braced for what he was sure would come next: no trip. His mother continued. "But it was also really brave, mature and honest of you to own up to it - especially to save your brother from getting blamed. So we are going to let you come with us today, but you are grounded for a week and will have to clear the whole table by yourself after every meal."

Jeff nodded. He wasn't happy about the consequences he'd have to face - he hated clearing the table - but deep down he felt good because he knew that admitting what he did was right, both for Steve's sake...and for his.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jeff feel at first when he heard his parents thought Steve had eaten the brownies and not him?
A. He felt happy that he had gotten off the hook and wouldn't get punished.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt that it was only right to own up to what he did and was good about himself that he hadn't let his brother get in trouble for nothing.

Ages 6-9

Q. What life lesson did Jeff learn from what happened?
A. At first he had felt that the only problem with doing something wrong was that he might get caught and punished so when he heard that his brother was going to take the rap he was happy and relieved. But then he realized that it wasn't fair to cause his brother to be punished for no reason and that a person should really own up to what he did, even if he had to face the consequences.

Q. Do you think it would have been okay for Jeff not to have owned up in a case where no one else would have gotten into trouble if he didn't? Why or why not?
A. While it wouldn't be as bad as causing someone else to be unjustly accused and punished, it still wouldn't have been right. Since he did it, it was only fair and right that he face the consequences. Also it would in the end make him feel better, because as much as it is unpleasant to face consequences, it is even more unpleasant to feel the guilt of having something to hide and not to have made amends.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Why do you think being willing to face consequences is a sign of maturity?
A. A mature person realizes that life isn't about trying to 'get away' with thing and get something for nothing, but rather about discovering true values and living by them. One of these values is to take responsibility for our actions and being willing to face consequences when necessary.

Q. Do you think a person can ever 'get away' with something and do something wrong without ever having to face the consequences?
A. While sometimes it may look that way, it is really not so. Everything that we do, besides its immediate outside effects, also affects our character and our soul. God wants us to perfect ourselves and part of that perfection is coming clean and facing up to the consequences of all of our choices. So God sees to it that one way or the other, sooner or later a person will have to face up to things and it feels much better when we choose to do it ourselves.


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