Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Lure OF The Open Road


Rabbi Berel Wein

Sivan 5768
The automobile companies are expert in selling us their automobiles with the promise of the ability to drive the "open road." We all know of the advertisements that show the driver zipping along the open road with nary a care in the world, enjoying the freedom and mobility that the automobile ostensibly brings to us. But we are also aware in the deep recesses of our brain and heart that ninety percent of the time the open road is an illusion. City driving anywhere in the world is a nerve jangling horror. Highway driving is many times boring and potentially very dangerous. There is very little joy left in driving an automobile. The current prices for fuel and for the automobile itself only increase our angst and discomfort at that piece of metal that has come to dominate our lives. As with many of our current technological conveniences, we cannot live with it and we cannot live without it. The pollution that it causes, the drain on our finances that it engenders is still not enough to overcome within us the lure of the open road - a road that rarely if ever truly exists. Yet there is always within us a desire to find such an open traffic free road, a blissful thoroughfare not hindered by other drivers, potholes in the pavement, recalcitrant traffic lights and never ending road construction. Because of this inner desire within us to discover and drive upon that mythical open road our love affair with automobiles continues unabated and ultimately unsatisfied.

The rules and values of Judaism resemble the rules and realities of the road. Judaism posits that there is no such thing as a completely open road. There will always be other drivers on our road and using our traffic lanes. We are not alone in our search for the open road. We must therefore always be prepared to accommodate others as well. Judaism recognizes good and evil in the world as constant and permanent factors in life. There are good drivers and bad drivers. We may initially assume that the driver next to us is a good driver but if he continues to tail gate, weave in and out of lanes, pass other cars dangerously, it is only plainly realistic to avoid that driver out of the sheer will of self defense. In life as well there are bad friends and evil companions, cynics and ne’er do wells. The wise and sanguine person will avoid such personages and groupings. Driving defensively in life is as wise an axiom as is driving defensively on the road. One must always anticipate that problems may occur. No automobile or automobile driver is perfect. Therefore, wisdom, caution and great peripheral vision is essential in life just as in driving an automobile. The Torah bids us to drive and live on a straight road - "for the paths of the Lord are truly straight" - and not to make unnecessary detours or try appealing shortcuts that end up being a dead end. The prophet warns us that "the righteous will walk, drive, go on that straight path, but the evil ones will crash and fall upon it." Even the open road is not really that open.

We are all aware that speed kills. Yet the drive to somehow gain a few minutes, even seconds, forces people to take great risks when they drive at excessive speeds. Judaism cautions against great speed in life. Moderation and patience characterize Jewish wisdom and experience. The attempt to speed up historical processes and promised events and fortuitous prophesies oftentimes lead to disastrous and counter productive results. Jewish history is littered with the remains of false messianism and illusory open roads. God alone controls our timetables. The prophet told us in His Name "in its appointed time I will then hasten its (redemption and success) arrival." There is a rush towards peace here in Israel. It is understandable and desirable beyond words. But irrevocable decisions made in haste and under varying pressures inevitably backfire and leave us farther from the goal of peace than ever before. The rabbis in Avot cautioned us "to be deliberate and patient in judgment." That is good advice in driving on the highway and in all other facets of our personal and national lives and circumstances.

Finally, not everyone can or should drive an automobile. A license or permit to do so is a universal requirement. So too is it in Judaism. Scholarship, sensitivity to tradition and a great deal of Torah wisdom is necessary before pronouncements and valid opinions about how to drive the Jewish car can be made. And even then the apparent open road is not really as open as one would wish in currently politically and socially acceptable terms. So let us drive carefully in all the areas of our existence.
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