“We’ve been stuck in this traffic jam for over twenty minutes,” my son fumed at the steering wheel. “We’re going to miss mincha at the Kotel. Who knows – maybe even ma’ariv at this rate.” When the traffic light finally came into view, it went red, yellow, green.
“Gridlocking! That’s why. I read that almost half of the jams are caused by gridlocking. Ima, how can people be so insanely selfish and stupid?”
I had to ferret out some redeeming merit in favor of these errant drivers – mostly fellow Jews, I assumed. “Menachem, they don’t gridlock lechatchila [on purpose]. They are optimistic drivers who are sure they will make it through, then inadvertently get stuck in the middle of the intersection. Perhaps they are in a huge hurry to do a mitzvah…”
Menachem didn’t even respond. Instead he took a sharp left out of the lane and sped back towards home. “No Kotel today,” he muttered, “but at least those idiots won’t keep me from davening on time.” I mouthed words about judging favorably and tried to bury my exasperation at those inconsiderate people. Yet I longed to tear up their drivers’ licenses forever – or worse. They wasted so many hours for so many people; they also wasted gas, polluted the air, and simply made our lives miserable.
The next morning, I buckled two grandchildren into the car and set off for my nephew’s early morning bris. But half of Jerusalem was already on the road. The entrance to Jerusalem is undergoing major surgery and we travelers are feeling the pain. Meanwhile, in the back seat, Ahuva kept complaining that she was hungry and Refael insisted repeatedly that we were going to miss Eliyahu Hanavi if I didn’t drive faster. I tried to calm the kids and myself down, threw them a bag of Bamba, ignored my phone, glanced at Waze, switched on some cheerful music, and blindly followed the car in front of me – straight into the intersection.
When the light turned red, I also turned red. We were surrounded by honking cars and looks that could kill. I was guilty of gridlocking! I was the inconsiderate idiot, insanely selfish and stupid. I wished I had one of those James Bond ejection buttons to get me out of the mess.
“What am I supposed to learn from this experience?” I pondered later that day as I was filing away a medical referral for my son at the desk in my home office. The shelves were getting too crowded and I took down some files to rearrange. I pride myself on my neat files of papers where each document is ensconced in its own safe and private plastic sleeve within the oversized notebook. I certainly wouldn’t want them to get donkey’s ears or soiled.
I discovered these plastic sleeves a decade ago while working in an office. It was love at first sight. Every important paper that crosses our threshold is treated to one. I recommended them to a friend whose papers were somehow always getting crumpled and coffee-stained. Whenever she needed to send papers off by fax, they would jam the machine. She would have to photocopy the spotted document and then fax it. I couldn’t fathom how she always managed to spill her coffee on her documents. These plastic sleeves came to her rescue.
My son’s referral was on top of my file of essays as I reached for the medical files on the second shelf, mug of juice firmly in hand. I was being so careful, I don’t know how it happened – but another file jumped off the shelf, knocked the mug out of my hand, and spilled the crimson beet juice all over the referral, the files, the desk, the floor, and my new white Nikes. The juice seeped into the plastic sleeves, and now my cherished essays all sported ruby-colored headings. My son’s referral hadn’t made it into the plastic skin yet and was now soaked in scarlet. I dried off the beet juice, ran the paper quickly through a stream of water, and put it on the window sill to dry. It looked awful, so I photocopied it. Even so, I cringed at the thought of presenting the spotted and blotted piece of paper to the doctor tomorrow.
I racked up this second peculiar experience in my mind, and before I could figure out where to go with it, my Israeli daughter-in-law, Tamar, phoned to share with me the amusing mishaps of her family’s day. Tamar, an immaculate, calm, super-organized Superwoman, had almost been late for work for the first time in her 12 married years. Yisroel, my oldest son, would always wake up the family at 6:45. He didn’t use an alarm clock. He would simply wake up and look at the luminous hands on the dial on his watch which always showed 6:45 at that very moment.
But that morning, Tamar related, he jumped out of bed like a jack-in-the-box, proclaiming that his watch showed 7:45! He pulled everyone out of bed, got the kids dressed, poured apple juice down their throats, and was about to shoo them out the door when Tamar noticed that the clock in the kitchen showed 6:45, not 7:45 as my son had mistakenly read. Yisroel scrutinized his watch and sheepishly confirmed her discovery.
I could hardly believe the tale. Yisroel beats even Tamar at organization. Even as a child, he was never late, never early – just perfectly on time. You could count on him blindfolded. What was going on?
Then on Shabbos, I goofed. I woke up from my nap, looked at my watch, and jumped out of bed like a jack-in-the-box. I was already five minutes late for my afternoon shiur! I was dressed and out the door in three minutes. “But when will I set the table for Shalosh Seudos, and what about mincha?” I worried as I tripped down the three flights. I flew across the street to the shul, galloped up the stairs – and no one was there! I studied my watch and, to my utter disbelief, realized that I was an hour early.
Finally, I had ample time to sit and ponder the experiences of the last few days. What message was Hashem kindly forwarding me?
He was simply forwarding a mirror image.