May 21, 2024
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“Hey, Noa!” Noa froze in place. She knew what was coming next, and desperately wanted to ignore it. Unfortunately, she was too nice for that. With her back toward her friend, Noa mouthed the words as Eliana spoke them: “Can I borrow your Zoology notes to copy?” Noa composed herself and turned around. “Sure, Eliana. Just make sure to lock my locker when you take them out and when you put them back.” Eliana gave Noa a half-hug. “Thanks, you’re the best.”

Noa and Eliana had been friends since kindergarten and spent a lot of time together. They lived on the same block, went to the same camp, and even shared a birthday. Noa considered Eliana to be a friend and often enjoyed spending time together. However, she did feel that Eliana took advantage of her generous nature too often. Eliana borrowed money and forgot to pay it back, borrowed clothing and returned it without washing it, and had no problem asking if Noa’s parents could drive both ways.

As much as Noa hated feeling that Eliana used their friendship to avoid responsibility, she didn’t know what to do about it. Noa remembered the times she wasn’t able to help Eliana study; Eliana’s performance on those tests and quizzes was not exactly star-student material. Now Noa felt stuck. “Well,” thought Noa, “I could tell Eliana how I feel.” But when she imagined how that would go, it always ended in Noa apologizing, as if she was the bad guy.

“Maybe,” thought Noa, “I could come up with some excuse so that I never have to help Eliana.” The problem with this idea was that the best excuse Noa could come up with was “my allergist said I’m allergic to pineapple, kiwi, and helping others study.” Noa didn’t think Eliana would fall for that one. So, on this went. Noa did the work and Eliana got the benefits. However, this all changed on one Wednesday afternoon.

“Okay class. Like I mentioned last week, our first notebook check is tomorrow. Please have all your notes and handouts in order at the start of class.” This announcement from Mrs. Reisman was not a surprise for Noa. She knew all about the notebook check (after all, it had been announced around 10 times) and was ready to go. Eliana, on the other hand… well, you know.

As Mrs. Reisman’s Zoology came to an end, Noa’s eyes were on the clock. She knew that the second the bell would ring Eliana would rush over and ask for Noa’s notes to copy. However, with Noa sitting right near the door and Eliana across the room, Noa knew she had a chance to get a head start. With two minutes left, Noa packed up her stuff (thankfully, Mrs. Reisman was focused on a student in the back of the room), and when the bell rang she ran out of the room and rushed to her locker.

Noa’s heart pounded as she reached her lock and tried to enter the combination. Her hands slipped as she attempted to turn the final wheel, and she could swear she heard Eliana calling her name (or was that just in her head?). Noa began to feel panicked, so she made a quick decision. She put all her focus on the lock and, just as Eliana was leaving the classroom, Noa began to turn the final combination wheel. It clicked into place and Noa opened her lock, swung the door open, grabbed a plastic bag, and laid it in the opening. Noa slammed the door shut, with the bag stuck underneath, threw her bag over her shoulder, and began to walk away.

“Hey, Noa!” Noa, just about to turn the corner, froze in place. “Can I borrow your Zoology notes to copy?” Noa composed herself and turned around. “Sure, Eliana. Just make sure to lock my locker when you take them out and when you put them back.” Noa walked away and Eliana went to the locker, which was (in)conveniently jammed. By then Noa was on her way and Eliana, like the locker, was left in a jam.

When Noa came home, she felt terrible. How could she have tricked Eliana like that? Noa told her parents what happened and how bad it made her feel. “Honey,” said her mother, “I know it doesn’t feel right, but Eliana is the one who put you in this situation. She made it so that you would feel that you couldn’t say ‘no’ to her, and as if you owe her your notes.” Noa’s father nodded. “I agree with Mommy. It probably would have been better for you to tell Eliana how you feel, but you can’t be a pushover. There is a difference between being nice and letting others take advantage of you.” Noa felt a little better, at least enough to fall asleep that night.

The next day Noa planned to avoid Eliana. She still felt guilty and didn’t want to face her friend. Her first stop was the office to ask if a maintenance worker could unjam her locker. Noa then went to wait for assistance. As she turned the corner, there was Eliana, waiting. Noa’s heart sank but there was nothing she could do. She walked up to Eliana, ready to apologize, but was shocked to hear what Eliana had to say.

“Noa, I’m so sorry for everything! When your locker was jammed, I went to ask Ariella to borrow her notes and she gave me a whole speech about me using her for her notes. Is that how I make you feel?”

In Parshat Vayetzei, Yaakov once again engages in tricking someone. This time, with Hashem’s help, he manages to trick Lavan into giving Yaakov almost all of his sheep. How do we understand Yaakov tricking Lavan, his father, and Esav? The answer is simple: Yaakov would not allow himself to be a pushover, and neither would Hashem. It’s not always easy to stand up for yourself, but there’s no shame in it.


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at [email protected].

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