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Don’t Be an Idiot


One of the definitions that Chazal give us for wisdom is “Eizahu chacham? Haroeh es hanolad – Who is wise? He who is able to anticipate the future.” One who has foresight to see what’s up ahead and to act accordingly is a wise person. I checked in several different dictionaries to learn what the antonym for wise is. The results were ignorant, foolish and idiotic. I propose, sadly to say, that according to these definitions there are a lot of ignorant, foolish, and idiotic drivers on the road today.

When you are in a car and – because you are in a rush or you’re impatient – you tailgate the car in front of you, you are not anticipating what could occur. If another driver has to brake suddenly, or thinks he sees something, or gets distracted by his phone or iPad and short stops, you’ve left yourself very little room to react. And this is in the best of weather. I see people tailgating in torrential rains. And this is only one of the bad habits that I see on the road on a regular basis.

The wise person knows that there are a lot of elderly people on the road. They also want their independence. But, their reactions are slower. Do you think it helps to tailgate them so that they get a move on it? On the contrary, your sitting on their rear bumper makes them more nervous and jittery and increases their likelihood to make a mistake.

If someone makes a mistake according to your not-so-humble opinion, do you think it helps to swerve in front of them to send a message? What about passing cars on single lane country roads because the driver in front of you is just going the speed limit? And then, while a car is hurtling towards the passer from the opposite direction, a deer comes on the road, or a pedestrian shows up right around the bend, it’s a recipe for mass destruction. All because we’re driving our cars as if it’s some video game. Unless you’re on Hatzolah responding to a Code One call, what’s so important that you have to pass a car on a one lane road especially in the dark with rain and fog?

In the Gemora, there’s a debate what to do if the court can’t come to a halachic decision about a certain case. One opinion is that they withdraw and we say, “Kol d’alim gvar – Whoever is mightier will prevail.” The other opinion is shuda d’dainei, we leave it up to the discretion of the judges. It seems to me that too many people today are driving their cars , and especially big SUVs with the attitude of kol d’alim gvar, that might makes right. But that’s not the Torah way. First of all there’s dina d’malchusa dina, the law of the land. If it’s a four-way stop, the first to get to the intersection has the right of way – and not the one who’s in the bigger rush. On top of that, there good ole menschlichkiet. On Tisha b’Av no less, I saw people arguing over a parking spot in a busy supermarket!

We must know that a car going 70 miles an hour has the force of life and death with it, and therefore we must handle it with the wisdom and care that it deserves. If we are tired, we have no right to get behind the wheel. Even if we are willing to gamble with our own life, we have no permission to do so with the lives of others. And by the way, leaving the window open and singing doesn’t help a tired driver much!

Parents have to exercise parental responsibility when giving the keys to their new-driver adolescent. Especially on country roads – high beams flashing in their eyes and suddenly appearing fog and abrupt rain showers – make curvy roads tricky to navigate. An ounce of precaution can save a lifetime of regret.

While on the subject of car safety, let me say something about pedestrians. It has become a pleasant pastime up in the Catskills for women, and even smart couples, to walk, jog, or run alongside the country roads. However, I’ve witnessed very irresponsible behavior. I’ve seen women walking three abreast, hugging or even overstepping the white line on the side of the road. If a car needs to swerve because of oncoming traffic, they will become pancakes, chas v’shalom. Sometime I see a woman walking with a stroller walking in an area that a car might suddenly need to encroach upon (and I believe many of these women are not themselves drivers and are therefore oblivious that their behavior is so dangerous). We need to warn them to keep a safe distance between themselves and the one lane traffic that’s alongside of them. Once again, this is all about utilizing a little wisdom instead of being ignorant and foolish.

People like myself are always throwing papers on top of the dashboard. Then, when there’s a rainstorm and you need to put on the defogger, the vents are all blocked. Let’s keep those vents clear, our tires in good shape, our children in the right kind of car seats, and our seatbelts fastened, and in that merit may Hashem bless us with safety, good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss