Narrow bridges

or, one lane highway

or, is kindness free?

one lane road.jpgI am now in Santa Barbara for our annual summer visit to spend time with my wife’s family. The other day my brother in law (and local Chabad camp director) asked me to help him out. The camp driver wasn’t available; could I drive the kids on a camp trip? Being that my expertise in rabbinical school was driving vans, I agreed.

The trip was a twenty minutes away and we were headed to the mountains, where the children were going on a hike. As we climbed our way up the narrow windy roads, we came to a bridge. There was only one problem; the bridge was only wide enough for one car. I had to wait at the entrance of the bridge for cars in the oncoming traffic to pass, and only then could I drive on. I looked and looked, and with a prayer on my lips that no cars would enter the bridge at the same time, I made it across the bridge to the other side.

Once I moved on from the bridge, the road widened to a two lane road and now it was no big deal driving on my side of the road as the oncoming cars would drive on their side of the road.

And I began to think about the difference between a one lane street and a two way road. When driving on a two way road there is room for both cars. There is no reason to stop the other car from driving on the road alongside you. But when there is only room for one car, that’s when the question begins who should go first? Or who should go at all?

When there is only room for one person, it is understandable that I may want to think about myself first, but when there is room for both of us, especially when it will come at no cost to me, there is no reason why I shouldn’t allow the other person to pass as well.

This reminds me of this week’s Torah portion of Chukas, we read about the Israelites traveling out of the desert and heading towards the holy land. The only issue was that in order to get to the land of Israel, they needed to traverse through the land of Edom. So Moses sent an email to the king of Edom asking for permission to pass through and the response from Edom was no way.

Moshe even offered to pay for the water that they would drink, but to no avail. Edom was adamant that they shouldn’t even pass through their territory on the way to another land.

There is a concept in the Talmud called ‘zeh nehene vezeh lo choser’ - the other benefits, at no cost to you. If you don’t help out a friend when it doesn’t cost you anything, this is truly selfish.

The ideal level of kindness is to do acts of kindness even when your kindness will cost you, whether in time or treasure. We have our forefather Abraham to look up to as an example of someone who would welcome in strangers, putting up his own resources and clearing making time in his schedule to do so.

But we may find that the ideal of kindness as exemplified by Avrahahm is too much for us all the time (and that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for that) but at least we should implement the first level of kindness - to help out others when it doesn’t cost us anything.

We could loan out tools or books to other people; we could greet the neighbor with a smile. We could even carpool with someone going our way. Hopefully this will be a stepping stone for us to be kind to others even when it does cost us something.

Let us learn from the Edomites how not to be, and find opportunities to help out others, especially when it doesn’t cost us anything.

Shabbat shalom