Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
It is important to be kind, but what if being kind in one way will end up causing us to be dishonest in another?
This week's Torah Portion teaches that for kindness to be real, it also has to go hand in hand with truthfulness and integrity (Genesis, 24:27,49). It's a challenging but worthwhile goal to learn how be kind, yet remain committed to truth at the same time.
In our story, some kids work out a way to bring together two opposites.
Good music can make you feel like you're flying high. And that's just how me and the other kids in our after-school choral group were feeling as our voices blended together in beautiful harmony, when a knock on the rehearsal room door brought us back down to earth. I reluctantly walked over to open the door, hoping that our singing hadn't disturbed one of the teachers or anything, and was relieved to see that it was just Jill, one of the kids from our class.
"I'm really sorry to interrupt you guys" she said, "but the singing just sounded so nice, so I, um, wondered if I could maybe join up with the group, too. I'm not a pro or anything, but I do really love singing."
Jill was our friend, and a really nice kid, so we figured it wouldn't hurt to let her try. After all, one more talented voice could only add to the harmony, right?
We gave her a short piece of music to sing as sort of a try-out, and I don't know quite how to describe it, but the kid's singing voice sounded something like a cross between a cat getting its tail stepped on and fingernails scraping a blackboard. I mean she was awful! We struggled to keep ourselves from laughing as she squealed and screeched her way through the musical piece. She came to a crashing stop at the final note.
"Um... thank you very much, Jill," I managed to say with a straight face. "We'll let you know our decision by tomorrow."
The door had hardly closed behind her when our once harmonious group burst out into a very un-harmonious debate. "Forget it. ForGET it!" said Hilary, one of our best soloists. "Face it, the kid can't sing to save her life. If we let her in the group, it's all over."
Some of the kids nodded in agreement and it seemed the girl's fate was sealed, until Leah, another star singer, spoke up. "Okay, it may be true that she's not the best singer in the world, but she is our friend, and that's what counts. It would be so mean to not let her join us, and she'll feel so hurt. I say let her in. It won't be so terrible, and who knows, maybe she'll get better at it."
Some of the kids mumbled in agreement.
But Hillary and her crowd weren't buying. "Friend or no friend, the truth is the truth. And I'm sorry to say the truth is she CANNOT sing. She will destroy the music if she sings with us - not to mention make a fool out of herself. If you decide to take her in, then I quit!"
"And I say," Leah responded, "that this whole group isn't worth anything if it is going to turn us into a bunch of snobs who don't care about people's feelings! If we don't take her in, then I quit."
I knew I had to think fast or else this group that we've all been working on so hard for so long was going to split in half and sink to the bottom of the ocean. But what could I say? Hillary was right - it wouldn't work for Jill to join us. But Leah was also right - rejecting her would be very hurtful.
Then, with all the stomping and shouting going on, one of the equipment racks got pushed and a tambourine fell to the floor. I felt like it fell from heaven because it gave me just the idea I needed, and maybe the only chance to save the group.
"Whoa, time out!" I whistled. Everyone got quiet, suddenly remembering I was the group leader after all. "How about we let Jill into the group..." Hillary started stomping off, "Hey, Hilary, let me finish!"
Hillary stopped, waiting to hear the rest of my idea.
"We let Jill into the group, but not as a singer, but as a tambourine player..."
The kids were buzzing as I went on. "We had talked about wanting to add a little percussion to the singing, and this way we can keep our group and also keep our friend. What do you say?"
Well no one was walking off now, and in fact everyone was smiling, so I knew my idea was a hit. I called up Jill that night and explained to her how the group had enough singers for the time being, but how we all wanted her to be part of us, and would love to have her join us as the tambourine player. She was fine with that, and admitted that she liked listening to choral music more than actually singing herself, and this would be perfect.
At the next rehearsal our voices soared higher than ever and everyone realized that we had finally reached perfect harmony in more ways than one
Q. How did the kids feel when Jill tried out for their singing group?
A. They felt stuck. They had to either be nice and let her join them - which would ruin the music, or be honest, and keep her out - which hurt her feelings.
Q. How did they feel in the end?
A. They were relieved and happy to discover that they could somehow be both nice and honest, by letting her join them, but not sing.
Q. Do you think the solution the kids came up with was a good one? Why or why not?
A. No solution is perfect, but this was definitely the best option available. Kindness dictated that they spare Jill's feelings, but in all truth and honesty they couldn't let her sing with them and ruin the group. By taking her in as a tambourine player, they made her feel wanted, without having to cause others to suffer.
Q. How do you know when it's more important to be kind, and when it's more important to be truthful?
A. It's never an easy call. If no one, including yourself, will suffer from doing the act of kindness that's usually a pretty clear green light. On the other hand, if doing it will hurt you or others more than it will help the one you're doing it for, that's usually a sign to hold off. Cases that fall in between are often best dealt with by compromise, like in the story.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think it is an ideal to be unfailingly kind and giving, no matter what the price?
A. Giving and kindness are amongst the highest spiritual values, and by extending ourselves in these areas, we grow. However there are still limits that must be upheld for everyone's good. For example we may feel it's kind to let a poor, caged lion in a zoo out of its fenced in area so it can stretch its legs and romp around a bit - but no one in his right mind would do it. The example is extreme, but the point is that even acts of kindness must be balanced and keep the big picture in mind.
Q. Does one have the ethical right to say whatever he likes as long as it's true?
A. Definitely not. The fact that a hurtful statement is true makes it no less hurtful, and one should never speak hurtfully unless there is a very good reason to do so. The Torah teaches us the parameters of ethical speech in great detail, and by following them we will be sure our mouth never turns into a lethal weapon.