Bereishit: ‘Quicker Than a Mitzvah’

It was time to send the children out to the playground for break. Mr. Isaacs looked around the classroom. Everyone had enjoyed this art lesson, and some lovely menorah mosaics had been completed in time to be put on the display board ready for the parents’ open evening a few hours later.

However, Mr. Isaacs was not pleased with what he saw. Although his class was usually very good about clearing up at the end of art and craft lessons, today, he thought, they had let themselves down. There were felt tip pens, pencil sharpenings, little pieces of coloured paper and various collections of rubbish strewn across the floor.

Mr. Isaacs decided to give the class a choice. When there was not a single sound he told the pupils that either the whole class would have to miss the first three minutes of their break, or if two kind volunteers would be willing to miss their whole playtime, the rest of the class could go out straight away.

Moshe and Adam volunteered to remain behind and clear up. Everybody else went out to play, with Mr.. Isaacs leading them through the corridor.

“Now Moshe, Adam,” said Mr. Isaacs as he left the room, “I’ll be back in a moment to do some work at my desk while you two tidy the room but while I’m taking the others outside, I’d like you to be good boys and make a start in here. Don’t do anything silly or I’ll be very angry.”

Mr.. Isaacs would not have made this last comment, except that, whilst Moshe was quite trustworthy, Adam could sometimes be naughty and Mr. Isaacs was a little worried about leaving him in the classroom without a teacher, even for a moment. Moshe was a good boy however and Mr. Isaacs was also sure that he would not let Adam misbehave.

Once they were alone, Adam immediately turned to Moshe and, with a cheeky smile on his face, whispered: “Let’s just kick all of the rubbish behind Mr. Isaacs’ desk!”

“I’m here to do a mitzvah,” replied Moshe, “not to find the quickest way of losing all my breaks for the rest of the week!”

“Number one” Adam began to explain, pursing his lips, raising his eyebrows and lifting his eyes to the ceiling in disbelief, “Mr. Isaacs will probably not even notice what we have done for weeks, by which time he will have completely forgotten today’s events. He will simply tell the cleaners to do a better job in the future! Number two…….” Moshe was not yet convinced. He was also worried that Mr. Isaacs would soon return, only to find the room exactly as he had left it.

Unfortunately, once Adam was in the middle of one of his speeches, he could not be stopped and so Moshe continued to listen.

“Number two, when Mr.. Isaacs returns to see we have cleared the whole floor in such a short time, he will surely be very pleased with us. He may even mention his delight at our achievement to our parents this evening.”

Now Moshe began to have second thoughts. Although he was rarely less than polite and well behaved, he nonetheless knew that he had not been working to the best of his ability lately. He had been worried that Mr. Isaacs would tell this to his parents in very firm terms and dreaded his parents’ arrival home after hearing the bad news. “Perhaps,” Moshe now began to wonder, “Mr. Isaacs will be so pleased with our speedy ‘tidy-up’ that he will forget my recent laziness and poor work, reserving only praise for my parents tonight. Are you certain Mr. Isaacs won’t notice what we’ve done?”

“There is no doubt in my mind” said Adam waving his finger. Then, with gently closing eyes and a slowly nodding head, added “Trust me, Moshe.”

Mr. Isaacs had been gone longer than he had intended and break was nearly over. The boys both knew they had wasted time discussing their little plan, so much so that they could have already finished the job properly had they set to work without delay.

There was now little choice. If the boys did not make some effort to tidy the classroom quickly, Mr. Isaacs would be angry anyway. Both Adam and Moshe began to use anything they could, their feet, pieces of card, rolled-up newspapers, even their bare hands, to sweep everything that was littering the floor in the direction of the gap between Mr. Isaacs’ desk and the wall.

Just as Moshe pushed the last visible pencil out of sight, Mr. Isaacs walked into the room. He told them that a ‘phone call from a parent had delayed him but that he was pleased to see how busy his volunteers had been in his absence.

“Well done, boys. Go outside now and enjoy the few minutes you have left.”

As the two boys were leaving the classroom, Mr. Isaacs sat down at his desk. A small smile lifted the right end of his mouth which returned to its usual position to make way for a deep, sad sigh.

Mr.. Isaacs had not been speaking to a parent at all. He would never leave children unsupervised in a classroom for such a long time. Upon returning to the room soon after leading the other children out, Mr. Isaacs had been about to enter when, pausing at the slightly open door to pick up a drawing pin from the floor, he had heard the boys discussing Adam’s plan. Although he knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, Mr. Isaacs was very curious to see whether Adam would be able to persuade Moshe to be dishonest. His curiosity turned to sadness when both boys began to carry out their plan.

It was clear to Mr. Isaacs that Moshe had changed his mind upon hearing Adam’s ‘number two’. Moshe loved his parents to be pleased with him and this was therefore an opportunity which was difficult to pass up. Of course, Mr. Isaacs was disappointed in Moshe for being drawn into Adam’s naughty plot and for being silly enough to believe they would not be found out.

Mr. Isaacs knew the perfect way to teach both boys a lesson. That evening, upon meeting Adam and Moshe’s parents in turn, he explained to them exactly what had happened and mentioned how upset he had been at their behaviour. Little did the two boys expect what was to come.

Upon arriving home, both sets of parents took their sons aside and reprimanded them severely. Moshe was completely shocked to find out from his parents everything that Mr. Isaacs had told them. He did however agree with his parents that what he had done had been very wrong and would have been so even had Mr. Isaacs never discovered what had been done. Even Adam was quite taken aback and upset that his parents had found out about his devious actions.

From that time on, Moshe always made sure not to let himself be persuaded to do wrong by other children. He also made Adam work very hard to become a more honest person.

***

“The snake said to the woman: ‘You will surely not die.” (Bereishit 3:4.)

With these words the serpent convinced Chavah that there would be no real harm in taking and eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course, Hashem had specifically warned against eating the fruit of that tree, and so Chavah should not even have allowed such thoughts to enter her mind. The snake tempted Chavah, however, with clever deceit masked by soft words.

In our story, Adam was the snake. He was determined to convince Moshe to help in his dishonest plan and eventually managed to do so. You might say it is unfair to put all the blame onto Adam. Did Moshe not have the free will to choose the right or wrong path? He certainly did. Did Chavah not have the free will to refuse to listen to the voice of evil? She certainly did. Nevertheless, when bad thoughts are put into a person’s head it becomes difficult to make important decisions with quite the care they deserve. You can think you are making the right decisions, when actually the opposite is true. This will happen when you have fallen into the trap of convincing yourself that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing. This is the trap of the Yetzer Hara.

In order to avoid being led astray, you must learn to notice dishonesty in others. Know whom to follow and from whom to keep a distance, and always remember:

‘Righteousness, righteousness, you should pursue.’ (Devarim, 16, 20)

© J. Richards 2004

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