Step # 1 ואהבת לרעך כמוך
Love your fellow person as yourself. (Vayikra 19:18)
When I begin teaching my students the first of the “Seven Steps to Mentschhood,” I tell the following true story:
A woman went into a convenience store to buy a few items, which totaled $4.80. She handed the cashier a $20 bill and waited for her change. At that point, the store manager angrily summoned the cashier to the back of the store. When she returned she handed the customer 20 cents change. The customer protested and said that she was owed $15.20 since she had paid with a $20 bill. The cashier adamantly disagreed and said that she had only been given a $5 bill.
This went on for some time until the customer requested her receipt and a pen and said, “Here is my name and phone number.”
At this point, I interrupt the story and I ask the students to imagine what the customer did or said. I tell them that the key to determining her course of action is to keep in mind that she acted according to Step #1.
What does the Torah mean when it says that we must love our fellow person as ourselves? What do our rabbis teach us? The Rambam teaches that since it is almost impossible for an ordinary person to achieve this ideal, we might just express our desire that others have the same rewards and successes as we have. Sforno explains that we should desire for our friends what we would desire if we were in their shoes.
When I ask the students to share what they thought the customer said, few students, albeit with many wonderful suggestions, are able to respond accurately. The story continues:
The customer said, “Here is my name and phone number. When you total up the money in the cash register tonight you will see that you are $15 over. If you need the money for yourself, please keep it as a gift from me. If not, give me a call.”
Later in the evening the cashier called the customer very apologetically and offered to bring her the money. She responded that it was not necessary and that she would stop by in the morning. When the woman arrived at the store, the embarrassed cashier began to apologize again. The customer replied, “No one needs to be sorry, we should be celebrating, because yesterday, both of us met at least one honest person.”
After reading this story to their children, parents might wish to engage them in this same conversation. Why didn’t the customer start yelling or try to get the cashier into trouble with her boss? (Perhaps it was the boss’s harsh treatment that caused her to make the mistake in the first place!)
This paves the way for discussions regarding how children might respond to other similar situations that frequently take place at school. For example, the following actual conversation took place between two fourth-grade girls:
Shani: “Rachel, I heard you say that you would help Jenny with her homework.”
Rachel: “Yes I did.”
Shani: “But even after she hurt your feelings and made fun of you?”
Rachel: “Yes, of course I’m going to help her—she’s a person who needs help, and it doesn’t matter if we’re friends or not.”
It is very difficult to act as Rachel did. This is the challenge of learning to apply Step #1 in school.
Following are guidelines for parents to help teach their children to master the art of Step #1:
Think about choices. Each and every day we are faced with numerous choices in our lives. Some are easy and others more difficult, for example, whether to stick up for an unpopular classmate. You are in charge of yourself, and you are the only person who can make choices for you.
Think about right and wrong. When facing a difficult choice or challenge, ask yourself, “How would I want to be treated in this situation?” If you answer honestly, you will almost always make the right decision.
Parents and teachers are your partners in decision making. They are eager to help you learn to choose the proper path. But you must make the final decisions regarding how you treat others.
One more story:
One of the greatest men of the last century was the sainted Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, better known as the Chafetz Chaim.
When the Chafetz Chaim, was a young boy, he lived in a small, poor town in Poland. One of the necessary jobs in the town was that of the water carrier. During the cold weather, young boys his age would play a trick on the water carrier and fill his pail with water in the evening, so that it would freeze overnight. When the carrier awoke in the morning he would be forced to chop the ice out of the pail so that he could do his job.
An exercise for parent and child: What would you do?
Many might suggest that young Yisrael Meir simply tell the boys to stop. But he knew that they probably wouldn’t listen to him. Instead he would get up in the middle of the night and empty the pails so that the water carrier would not have to start his day in such an unpleasant fashion. He went out of his way to treat others as he would like to have been treated himself.
Next time: Step #2 לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך You shall not hate your brother in your heart.
By Stanley Fischman