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Book review: Combatting jealousy, the monster within us

Benny The Big Shot by Tehilla Deutsch, illustrations by Vitaliy Romanenko, Nanuet, N.Y.: Feldheim Publishers, 2010, 25 pages including glossary, ISBN 978-1-59826-468-5, $12.99.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — With school soon to go back into session, this is an enjoyable, cautionary, tale about how students must struggle against becoming jealous of each other.  Although set in a Orthodox Jewish day school, the moral applies to students no matter what kind of school they attend—parochial, private or public.

This rhymed tale is about Benny, the new kid in school, who has no trouble answering the questions posed by the rabbi that stump the rest of the all-boys class.  Although he is quiet, and not a braggart, his constant academic successes are especially irksome to the narrator, his classmate Tzvi.

So while Benny was giving an answer one day,
I whispered to my neighbor, Avraham Kay.
“Take a look at who’s showing off once again,
It’s the one and the only Big Shot Ben!”
Then Kay passed the joke on the Aryeh Leib Pretter,
And that made me feel just a little bit better.

The story goes on to explain the concepts of lashan ha-ra (evil speech, gossip) and kin’ah (jealousy).  It races toward a conclusion when the rabbi announces that whoever does best on a certain test would win a prize—two admission tickets to a local amusement park.   Tzvi decides he will study harder than ever before just to do better than Benny.

Benny, unaware of Tzvi’s feelings, does his normal best and triumphs in a competition he didn’t even know he was in.   But, then he does something else: he asks Tzvi if he would please accompany him to the amusement park, explaining that he admires Tzvi for how easily he makes friends and hopes to be his friend too.

The positive gesture turns the relationship around. And Tzvi learns a valuable lesson.  Everyone in the class has a special talent, or unique feature of his personality, that makes him special.  One boy is funny, another is a good baseball player, another is quite strong. 

It’s important for children, as well as for some adults, to learn that we are not diminished by other people’s successes.  We ought not feel jealous if someone else wins a scholarship, or the lead role in a play, or a job promotion. Our own opportunity to make a positive contribution to society may be just up there ahead.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

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