I sat at my desk munching a sugar-coated doughnut. Mr. Heller, our sixth-grade math teacher, handed our class treats for the 100th Day of School celebration. As I neatly chewed mine, I could see the new kid’s mouth twisting left and right as some powder covered his freckled face and plaid shirt. My friends and I snickered.
“Daniel from Texas makes lots of messes!” one kid blurted in a loud whisper.
Daniel turned around to face me, crumbs still covering his mouth. “Yes?” he queried, his eyes meeting mine.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Oh.” Daniel turned back to face the teacher.
Again my friends snickered. Daniel had been in our class since the first day of school. He walked with a hop to his step. He wore skinny jeans like the rest of us, only his tops never matched the color of his pants. Some of us called him “mental,” thinking that he had problems because he didn’t fit in with the rest of us. None of us chose him to be on our football teams at recess, but he liked to read, so he would sit on the sidelines with his book.
Deep down, I felt sorry for Daniel. He was different.
One day later that month we were out at recess tossing Yosef’s football and just playing around. Daniel came over to the sidelines, as usual reading his latest library book. Suddently, Morty sent the ball flying in Daniel’s direction.
“Daniel from Texas, catch!”
The ball whizzed along, toward Daniel, but it was too late. It hit his head. I saw Daniel lying face up on the ground, his Harry Potter book knocked to one side and blood everywhere.
I was the first to run over and tap him. “Daniel. You OK?” No response.
“Quickly, call a teacher. It’s an emergency!” I screamed.
“This is crazy,” Yosef yelled out. “Oh, here comes Mr. Heller with the nurse and an EMT.”
I told the EMT what had happened and then joined the boys on the sidelines.
“Listen,” I whispered, “let’s promise to be nice to Dan and to change, and maybe we’ll get a second chance.”
The guys agreed, and Morty said, “Sure hope we do.”
I looked up and was relieved to see Daniel standing with the EMT. They decided to take him to the hospital for observation, and our class went inside. The rest of the day everyone was quiet. When Daniel returned to class the next week, the guys circled around him at recess, and they all wanted him on their team.
“I have to take it easy for a couple of weeks,” he replied with a smile. I think Daniel enjoyed the new popularity. “They said I had a concussion, but I’m OK.”
A few guys sat near Daniel and talked with him about his book while the rest of us played catch. And there was no more teasing the rest of the year. None at all. We had learned the hard way the damage it causes.
Note: Hurtful words are called “onas devarim,” and the Torah forbids us from speaking them.
1. Might the boys have changed their behavior before the accident?
2. Why can words sometimes hurt more than physical pain?
Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. “Shabbat Table Talk” is a monthly
feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.