Remember back in gym class when two students would get to choose the teams? Just the sound of the teacher announcing who was captain would fill my heart with dread. We’d line up in front of them and wait to hear our names called. They always started with the most sought out teammates and ended with me. On a good day, I’d get second to last.
It’s not that I was a total klutz. I was graceful in a dancer sort of way. My main shortcomings were that I didn’t throw very far, flinched basically every time the ball came at me (those things go fast!), and ran – well – like a girl.
And what’s the deal with dodge ball, anyway? Why on earth would an institution of education encourage a bunch of rowdy eleven-year-olds to peg each other with a veritable rubberized torpedo?
Where was the justice in this game? The kid who struck me would be cheered on, while I, usually limping off the battlefield (er, playing field), would get booed. I would have gladly provided warmth to any bench anywhere in order to have avoided that embarrassment.
Indeed, the only thing worse than getting chosen last was when I would lose a point for whatever team got stuck with me. Boy, those boys were mean. I can’t remember the exact epithets they used, but let’s just say that in eight years of bi-weekly gym class, I heard them often.
There’s something about one person behaving cruelly to another that makes us worse than even the most vicious animal, according to Jewish thought. That’s because when an animal hurts another animal it’s not doing so out of malice, but rather out of instinct. When we humans are mean to each other though, it’s because we choose to be. (We often even enjoy it.)
But what if we act with kindness? What if we choose to take care for another person when we could easily remain indifferent? In that case, Judaism says that we’re greater than even the highest angels in heaven. That’s because when it comes to angels, they (like animals) lack free will. So although following orders straight from God seems like a good thing, it’s not particularly commendable if you couldn’t choose to do otherwise.
My first grader just told me about a girl in her class who lost a bunch of points for their team during a recent game in gym. Some of the other classmates were so mean to this little girl that she started to cry.
My daughter, who was also disappointed over the lost points, made a decision though, and ran over to her crying classmate, gave her a hug, and told her that it was OK, and how happy she was to be her friend.
This cheered the little girl up and filled my heart with joy. I was so proud to hear how my daughter went out on her own and chose kindness over cruelty. I was also proud to hear that she’s fairing better in gym class than her old lady.