| Parshah |

In a Backward World

We should be kind to people because we want to emulate the ways of Hashem


“And you should warn them about the chukim and the Torah and make known to them the way that they should go….” (Shemos 18:20)

When Yisro asked Moshe what he was doing, Moshe answered that he was judging and teaching Hashem’s chukim and His Torah.
Yisro gave Moshe his famous advice: that Moshe should teach chukim and Torah, but that he should also teach them, “the direction in which they should go.” The Gemara explains that this refers to mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro.
Why did Yisro add this in? (Rav Yisrael Reisman, Shiurim on Chumash)

Driving brings out the worst in us. Something about too many people all vying for the same place, position, goal — sorta like sibling rivalry.

So, although I try to use my car to do chesed — give people lifts, drop off items, do errands for others — I also use it to work on my middos.

Take last Wednesday. I pulled into a narrow street to drop something off. I have a big American car, not one made for camel-sized roads, so I was thrilled to find a perfect parking spot right on the curb, all nice and legal.

Moshe felt there was no need to teach Bnei Yisrael about mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro because Klal Yisrael are naturally rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chasadim. Yisro pointed out that this only applies to one aspect of bein adam l’chaveiro — that of v’ahavta lerei’acha komacha. It’s natural for us to love our friend.
But there’s another aspect of bein adam l’chaveiro — that of emulating Hashem’s ways.
If you are only doing a chesed because you love your neighbor, what happens if he’s obnoxious, doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing, or is just not a nice person? Then, says Yisro, you have to act on the second aspect of bein adam l’chaveiro: to do a chesed because you are emulating Hashem’s ways. Even though people don’t listen to the Ribbono shel Olam, even though people misbehave and disobey Hashem, He still keeps giving — and we should do the same. We should be kind to people because we want to emulate the ways of Hashem.

I got out of my car and was walking away when a man began yelling. I looked up to see a small white car trying to back up the winding narrow lane.

Figuring he couldn’t be yelling at me, I continued. The irate driver jumped out of his car and began accusing me of blocking him in.

Selichah? I’m parked legally. I gestured to the empty road ahead of him. “Why don’t you turn around? Then you’ll have no problem going out.”

In my humble experience, most people (other than two year olds) find going backward a lot more difficult than going forward. But no, it was backward for this guy or nothing at all. Within seconds, he was causing a ruckus, making a scene and threatening to call the police on me because… I parked legally?

This is such an important lesson in bein adam l’chaveiro. I hear many times people say, “I understand there’s a mitzvah to be nice, but does it also apply to that guy? I understand there’s an issur of lashon hara, but does it apply to him? I understand you should help someone, but not him!” The mitzvah applies to everyone. Hashem is kind to all and so we should be.

Meanwhile a few other cars were coming forward down the lane, effectively blocking him in further. “See!” He gestured. “I can’t get out! She blocked me in!” He started yelling to the drivers facing him who were getting impatient and honking. “She won’t move!” He pointed to me. “Make her move!”

Some drivers started leaning out their windows to yell at… me. I was just an innocent parkerby. What did I do? Park facing forward on National Backward Day??

But as ludicrous as the situation was, it was also spiraling out of control. And as ridiculous as this guy was acting, I was able to still move my car and allow him to back out. Which I did. Because hey, it’s always National Be Nice to People Day.

But the incident prompted me to tape a small note to my dashboard to remind myself: Da lifnei mi atah noheg — Know before Whom you drive.

I hope it will bring out the best in me.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 777)

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