Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Big Bother is Watching


Operation Inspiration


One day a friend’s daughter texted me to ask about the Kashrus suitability of a certain restaurant. This is not an uncommon occurrence, as I often have better information than their family does due to ties to various Kashrus agencies. I’d never heard of the restaurant, so I checked their website. Their certification was easy to find and was a reputable, national organization. I told her what I’d done and that it was fine.

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She fell over herself trying to apologize. “I didn’t even think of Googling it,” she said. “I’m so sorry for bothering you!” It was fine. I didn’t mind and it took only seconds to find the information. It was nice of her to give me the apology, though.

Ironically, it’s the people who don’t do bad things to us who tend to apologize. But the people who hurt us, or actually put us out, often think nothing of it. For example, while visiting my nephew, I walked to shul with his young son. We had to cross a busy street and a car stopped to let us cross. (That’s the law at crosswalks that don’t have traffic lights anyway, but it was nice of him to obey.)

I mentioned to my great-nephew that when someone lets me cross the street, I always wave to show I appreciate their stopping, and I also move visibly faster so drivers know I don’t take their time for granted. I’m hoping he takes the message to heart and acts upon it for the rest of his life. Sadly, many people jaywalk, causing drivers to miss the light (yes, when it’s pouring rain or freezing cold I get it, but if it’s just a question of your time or mine, what gives a pedestrian the right to decide his time is more precious?) and then they saunter across instead of moving with alacrity (read: QUICKLY.). THOSE are the people who should be saying, “Sorry to trouble you.” But they don’t.

It’s probably because when I know I haven’t really inconvenienced you, it’s not embarrassing to say, “Sorry for the bother.” In fact, it makes me look like a tzaddik who is so sensitive to others that I apologize for things that nobody expected an apology for. But if we’re being honest, we should be thinking about how we trouble someone else in many ways, or even how we can make their lives easier.

Someone I know, when parked head-to-head in a lot, will try to back out quickly so the other driver can drive straight out. That’s quite a departure from the people who sit in their cars waiting for the other person to move so they can drive out straight. Even more for the people who actually block other drivers, such as parking in the fire lane behind a car trying to back out, and then honking when the car gets too close. (Yes, this happened to me. I was using my back-up camera and the driver of the car sitting behind me thought I didn’t see him. I don’t know whether he grasped the irony of that.)

But what about the “bother” factor? Why doesn’t the fellow pulling out fast so others can drive out, focus on the fact that his life will be more complicated while he’s making theirs easier? Doesn’t he realize there’s a trade off?

Of course he does. But he also knows that he’s getting something in return. He’s getting the Mitzvah of helping another, even if they don’t need it. He’s becoming a better person by thinking of others even when they wouldn’t think of bothering him, and may not even realize they’re being helped. Have you ever moved a shopping cart from behind someone’s car so they didn’t have to move it when they came out, maybe even wondering if it had scratched their car? Did you ever put a quarter in someone’s meter when the time was about to run out and they weren’t there? If so, you understand the assignment.

You recognize that when you trouble yourself for others (or are troubled by them), you’re gaining. You’re growing, helping, and benefiting from it. Before I let you go, I’d like to add one final insight. I mean, I have to, because I need more words in this column.

Sometimes the bother we go through will be for our benefit in the future. Maybe we experience something in one situation and are able to use that knowledge at a later date when the circumstances involve more pressure or urgency. Maybe we are driven by something irksome to take action, as often happens to me when I have to deal with something but then use it as a topic for my writing.

If we keep these things in mind, I think we’d find ourselves less bothered most of the time. And yeah, an apology would be nice, but if we don’t get one, at least we won’t get as bothered.

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