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The Observant Jew

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

The Right Way

I generally don’t think of myself as vindictive. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I was driving on a highway in very slow-moving traffic and I suddenly began thinking of creative ways for someone else to suffer, and did so with glee, albeit for only a moment or two.

You see, as I inched along, a driver went flying past me to my right, on the shoulder of the road. I would have loved to do the same, but since it’s illegal, it’s not worth the ticket if you get stopped. I mean, it’s not nice to the people you’re passing, because they’re all waiting patiently, but that alone might not be enough to stop me.

In my mind’s eye, I imagined the driver cresting the ramp ahead and suddenly slamming into a stalled car. OK, that’s not so good because the other driver didn’t do anything wrong. So instead I envisioned a police cruiser flying past me on the shoulder in hot pursuit of this fellow, with him getting such a whopping ticket that he never did that again.

But why did it bother me so much when he broke the law? People do it all the time and I hardly notice. People change lanes without using a turn signal, they buy things, use them and then return them because they never intended to keep them, or any number of other things and though I’m embarrassed and annoyed, I don’t take it personally.

Obviously, in this case, the person is cheating and I feel like the one being ripped off. If I have to sit in this traffic, so does he. In other words, I didn’t care that he broke the law; I was just upset with how I perceived it affecting my life. I personally feel cheated, and I think that’s what G-d wants.

Innately, we know what he did was wrong. People are supposed to be concerned with others, not themselves, and to act selfishly flies in the face of our internal sensors. Why is it wrong? Because the Torah says so, and HaShem gave us a special gift in our sensitivity to injustice. However, I don’t think it’s so we are inspired to tell these people off.

HaShem made us attuned so that when we see something that is clearly wrong, it upsets us, bothers us, and makes us uncomfortable. It’s a way of looking in the mirror and being able to see our own flaws through the misbehavior of someone else.

When the driver passing on the right shoulder goes “off the derech,” he is essentially saying he is above the law and that is meant to throw us off balance and insult our internal sense of right and wrong. Now, you may argue that it’s the state law he’s flouting and not the Torah, but that isn’t really true.

Besides for the fact that one must adhere to the laws of the place he is in, or else he is in violation of halacha, the idea that one can skirt the rules and focus on himself is the antithesis of what it means to be a Jew. I believe part of the reason his actions bothered me is that I also do things that are wrong, though I won’t want to admit it. I’m harming others when I do, and HaShem wants me to see what it’s like.

At Har Sinai we received not only the Torah, but the aspect of ‘arvus,’ taking responsibility for our fellow Jews. This means we don’t do things to harm them, and we don’t do things that make them look bad. We are concerned about how people perceive us because we’re no longer individuals, but rather part of a great unit of the Am HaShem.

The guy driving on the shoulder is part of the group of highway drivers yet acts like a loner, doing what he wants for himself. While on the highway I can only get annoyed and dream up fitting consequences, in life, HaShem is the trooper making sure that the scofflaws don’t get away with it.

The problem is that when someone gets into trouble on the road, the whole highway comes to a standstill. That means when he gets into trouble, I suffer right along with him. And that is a klal gadol baTorah.

We have to seek the betterment of our peers not by wishing them ill, but by wishing that they understood the folly of their ways, as we seek to understand the folly of our own. If I’d floored the gas and chased after the guy to give him a piece of my mind, I would have been no better than he.

So, if I look in the mirror, I’ll realize that the only chance we have of all of us moving smoothly down the road is remembering we’re all in it together, treating others as we would like to be treated, and each of us making sure that we, at least, are trying to stay on the straight and narrow.


Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world.  You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz, and follow him on Instagram @RabbiGewirtz or Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion.  Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.

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