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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Not God’s Messenger

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         It was one of those cold, rain-soaked evenings – the kind that make you look forward to a hot drink, a good book and a soft couch to curl up on. With those happy thoughts in mind since I was close to home, I proceeded to cross to the other side of the street.

 

         Luckily I wasn’t too pre-occupied with my images of impending comfort to not look around at the traffic. Sure enough, as I was half way across, I quickly realized that I was going to be competing for the space ahead of me with a woman in a mini-van who was making a left turn.

 

         Now as a pedestrian I have the right of way – that is undisputable. But as the saying goes, “might makes right” and I wisely ascertained that in this particular situation, I would not come out on “top”. My 120 lbs. (writer’s license here) body would be no match for thousands of pounds of steel and if anything I would end up “under”.

 

         And so I yielded my right of way to her – an act of “chesed” that I’m sure she wasn’t even aware of. How could she be? Her neck was tilted to the left, allowing her to sandwich her cell phone between her chin and her shoulder, causing her face to be sideways and her eyes pointed downward.

 

         Situations like this tend to make me philosophical at times, so I asked myself. “What if Hashem decided as He looked at my name in the Book of Life/Death during the Yomim Noraim that the ‘honor of my presence was requested in Shomayim‘ and that I would be getting to The Good Place” sooner than later? The “sooner” being as I crossed the street that night?

 

         Should this lady – animatedly yakking on her phone as she made a left turn on a rain-slicked road – feel guilty and tormented for running me over and causing my soul to depart? Or should she instead be b’simcha and insist on a kiddush in shul for being deemed worthy enough to be personally chosen by Hashem to fulfill His will? After all, the Almighty decrees all that happens and she would simply have been His messenger. Why lose any sleep over the fact that she had sent me to the Next World when, in fact, the Heavenly Judge gave her this koved?

 

         Why should she be punished by either her conscience or any other entity – like the judicial system? How responsible would she be for an event that had been heavenly ordained?

 

         That question of accountability and punishment/reward has come up frequently in Jewish philosophical and religious discourses. One that quickly comes to mind deals with the suffering inflicted on the Egyptians prior to the children of Yaakov’s emancipation from slavery. Was it not God’s will that the descendants of Yaakov be enslaved for hundreds of years? Why were the Egyptians so severely penalized for just doing God’s will?

 

         I believe the answer lies in the Judaic concept of free will. Events may be ordained from Above, but the role one plays in implementing them is totally up to the individual. The sages state that the Egyptians were punished for doing what they were heavenly mandated to do – enslave the children of Yaakov – because they did so with such relish and enjoyment. They chose to be brutal and delighted in the pain they caused.

 

         Which brings us back to the yenta on wheels. Obviously God in His infinite wisdom had decreed that this particular day was not my departure day. However had God decided otherwise – the blame would have been on her shoulders – because she had the choice and the free will not to drive in a way that put others at risk. Yenta chose to flout the law of the land – the obeying of which, by the way, is a halachic requirement. This law forbids using a cell phone while driving unless it is a hands-free set. The woman had the option of acquiring/using the hands free set, but did not.

 

         Was it arrogance, “I’m above the law, I’m better than everyone” or overconfidence, “I can safely and competently drive, talk on the phone and even change my kid’s diaper – all at the same time” or laziness that influenced her free will and led her to engage in risky behavior? It doesn’t really matter – the fact is that she chose her course of action.

 

         God doesn’t need a messenger to do His work. If He had decreed that it was time for my soul to return to its original home, I could have tripped on the wet street and hit my head instead.

 

         So no kiddish here. No pride in “doing God’s will.” Just a vehicular manslaughter – but for the grace of God.

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