Speeding on the 101

flashinglights.jpgYes he has a confession to make, he tells me. In the past, I have driven on the highway above the speed limit! (gasp)

When he first moved to California from NY several years ago he bought a car for the first time. (In NY, like in SF owning a car can be a real pain and the transport system is very good, so he didn’t need a car). And he tells me, driving a car that is yours is quite thrilling, for the first while.

Sometimes he drove long distance. There are sections on the 101 where it is a straight quiet highway. (The speed limit is 70 in some parts!) And I admit, he says, I was tempted to speed up a little, taking advantage of the tranquil road – there was not a car in sight!

And then out of the blue, a blue flashing car emerges and before you know it he was in possession of small piece of paper, that by the time it was all over cost him more than $200.

But did that stop him from speeding?

It happened again and it happened a third time! In the first year he had racked up a bill of over seven hundred dollars!

And then something amazing happened. No more speeding. When the fees got significant enough, and the dent in his wallet was noticeable for him, it actually got him to reconsider his approach to speeding. From then on, he started a habit of always using cruise control and setting it to the speed limit. Now he doesn’t have to worry about spotting the cop before the cop spots him, because he isn’t speeding in the first place.

All the messages from the CHP, the signs posted about the speed limit or the threats and nudging, hadn’t helped. But the penalty sure did.

No more tickets in over ten years!

When we are faced with the challenge of a negative, destructive or bad habit, we can try different inspirational angles. But sometimes the most effective approach is to use good old fashioned punishment!

In this week’s portion of Bo, Hashem uses the same tactic.

Pharaoh had been abusing the Israelites and using them as slaves for a while and Moshe had come to demand that they be set free. But Pharaoh didn’t listen; all the talking in the world didn’t get his attention. Suddenly there is a plague and now Pharaoh is willing to talk. But it is only after repeated penalties over and over again that Pharaoh finally gets the message, changes his behavior and lets the Jewish people free.

One lesson that we can take from this is to remember how to deal with tyrants. When we are facing dictators and evil people and the like (and unfortunately there are still some of them around today), we should use appropriate punishments to get their attention and get them to change their ways.

The Talmud tells us that someone who has mercy on the wicked, in the end will be wicked to the merciful. True, it is a beautiful quality to be understanding and tolerant of others. But when someone crosses the line and is abusing others, whether on a global scale or on a local level, it should not be tolerated. Threats of punishment should be made and harsh retribution should be meted out. Sometimes, that is the only way to protect the innocent.

Hashem shows us, that even though violence is ugly, sometimes it is the only way to stop someone else who is being violent for the wrong reasons.

Even for most of us who don’t come in contact with dictators on a regular basis, we should still know to differentiate between when to conciliate and when to retaliate.

Shabbat Shalom