Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Look, Ma, No Hands!


Operation Inspiration

As children, we often want to show how big we are. Therefore, when we are in front of our parents, we will show them we can do things we wouldn’t be able to if we were small and incapable. Whether it’s going down the slide in the playground or jumping into a swimming pool, the cry of, “Mommy! Watch me!” can be heard reverberating through parks and neighborhoods around the world (though the language may be slightly different.)

One thing I recall myself, was riding my bike and being able to progress forward without putting my hands on the handlebars. It was a sort of thrilling daredevil sport, showing I had so much control over the bike that while others needed to hold on, I didn’t. That’s where the phrase, “Look, Ma, no hands!” undoubtedly came from. It was boys and girls riding without holding on, and wanting their parents to witness this achievement.

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As I said, I assume the point is to seem more mature and capable in their eyes, and often, in the eyes of other people. This idea hit home to me one day not too long ago when I witnessed a man riding a motorcycle down a busy road and he did not have his hands on the handlebars. Now, he was at least 30 or so, and his mommy was nowhere in sight as far as I could tell, so I wondered what the attraction of riding without holding on was.

Yes, it’s possible his back hurt and he wanted to sit up straight for a moment and stretch, but more likely, he was showing the world he had so much control he didn’t need to hold onto the handlebars. And I felt bad for him.

You see, I remember how it felt to ride with no hands. It was somewhat terrifying. I knew I was hurtling through space with the chance of hitting a bump or pebble and being unable to correct the steering of my bike since my hands weren’t on the controls. I knew that if anything went wrong in my little “no worries” play-acting, I’d be less able to protect myself since I’d relinquished some of my control for the purpose of looking cool.

If you remember those days, you probably also remember the times you had to urgently grab for the handlebars, or even the steering wheel if you did it when you were older, trying to make a course correction in time to avoid an unpleasant experience. The fear was real, because we knew we weren’t in THAT MUCH control that we could handle things that were out of the ordinary or were unexpected.

What motivated us to do that? Why be a daredevil? Why not take whatever precautions you can?

I think it was the innate human desire to be in control, and show we don’t need to depend on anyone else to protect us. Where did we get that desire? Why, in Gan Eden, of course, when we ate from the Aitz HaDaas. We heard how wonderful it would be to be equals with Hashem. Chava bought into the snake’s sales pitch and the rest is history. Then, that evil desire of the Yetzer Hara entered our beings and has remained there, occasionally surfacing identifiably, like when we try to show our independence.

As a grown-up, I now know that riding without hands doesn’t show how mature I am. On the contrary, I haven’t rid myself of the childish notion that I’m a big boy and I’m in control. As an adult, we know there are so many variables in life that we can’t possibly plan for them all, and the more we consider it, the more we realize how we are at the mercy of the Universe, so to speak. Except for one thing.

When you’re a child, there is one time you can ride with no hands and not have to worry about falling off; when you don’t need to steer and you can enjoy the ride.

That’s when your parent is holding the bike and handlebars as they teach you to ride, or when you’re sitting on their lap behind the wheel. You get to sit in the driver’s seat, but you don’t have to worry because they’re the ones watching out for danger, directing the wheels, and propelling you forward.

To me, the real sign of maturity is recognizing you don’t need to be in control; to understand that the best scenario for you is to leave that to your Father, and just go along for the ride.

Nothing is truly in our control. Though we make our choices and our efforts, Hashem ultimately guides us and won’t let us make a wrong turn unless it has to be. Sure, we may find ourselves at dead ends or sliding across the pavement and getting scuffed up, but He’s always there ready to take the wheel back from us when we realize we don’t know how to drive.

In my ideal world, we would all be saying, “Look, Ma, no hands!” Not because we’re so in control, but because we truly get the fact that we’re not – and we’re OK with it. That is a true sign of maturity. When I don’t need to be in charge and it doesn’t diminish my self-esteem, I’ve grown far beyond the playground, and can be proud of the growing up I’ve really done.


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