Home » Blog » Just Two Weeks After Yom Kippur and I’m Already Sinning Again

Just Two Weeks After Yom Kippur and I’m Already Sinning Again

I confess. It has only been two weeks since Yom Kippur and, oops, I did it again. I sinned. And I feel bad. It happened here in Calabasas around the corner from A.C. Stelle Middle School on Friday, October 5th, at about 3:15 pm.

I was making my way home when I turned off the main road. I immediately found myself negotiating my way through a narrow passage between SUVs lining both sides of the street as they waited to pick up carpools. I watched the steady stream of cars driving down one street veering left and right to avoid the children crossing mid-street.

There in the street stood a woman, leaning toward the window of a big SUV, having a conversation. After observing a few cars swerve around her, I came to believe that she was endangering herself and others by standing in the road. I opened my window and called out, “Could you move to the other side of the car? By standing there you are making it unsafe for our kids.” She and the woman in the driver’s seat of the SUV looked strangely at me and said, “What?” I repeated my concern, “Standing in the street, you are making it unsafe for our kids and yourself. The cars are swerving…” She looked at me again, pondered what I said, and called out, “Shut Up!”

With cars now lining up behind me, I continued forward. I was irritated. My first impulse was to pull off to the side, park and walk back to talk to her. What kind of a response was “Shut Up!”? I wanted to rebuke her for her crassness. Our Torah teaches us (Leviticus 19:18), “Tochecha – You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of her.” I only wanted to protect the kids and to ensure that we were all safe. I wanted to protect her too. I didn’t want anyone to be killed by a swerving car.

“Shut Up!” She Called Out

Was that civil conversation? Is this the kind of response one would want their kids overhearing?

The impulse to shake it off won out over the impulse to talk it through. I had two boys at home, waiting (im)patiently for dad to arrive home for a game of catch. Nothing good could come out of a conversation between a do-gooder (as I thought I was) and a woman who responded with “Shut Up”. It is just as the Talmud explains: Rabbi Tarfon said, I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to accept reproof, for if one says to another: Remove the chip of wood from between your eyes, he would answer: [No, you] remove the beam from between your eyes! (Arakhin 16b) So off I drove, home to my kids.

My Heart Wasn’t Fully into Playing Catch

I kept returning to the concluding line of the Talmud passage, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said: I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give reproof. Had I been inappropriate with my comments? Regardless of intent, had I somehow transgressed the bounds of appropriate critique? After all, didn’t Rashi, the 11th century commentator, warn us, Though rebuking him, you should not publicly embarrass him, in which case you will bear sin on account of him. Had I embarrassed her by calling out my critique in front of her conversation partner and the other people – kids included – who were standing around on the sidewalk? I was so lost in thought that I missed a few perfectly thrown balls. When one throw narrowly missed bonking me in the noggin, I realized that I had to get my head back in the game.

But I stewed. Why had she reacted so strongly? I remembered a line from 12th century Maimonides, One who rebukes another, whether for [personal] offenses or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly and point out that he is only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good… (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De’ot 6:7). Was there enough gentleness or tenderness in my voice? Or had I been frustrated by this continual back-up on the road home? Did I smile as I shared my concerns or did I have a scowl on my face? Did I say “please”? I was beginning to believe that in my attempt to help others I had somehow harmed this anonymous woman.

Drive-By Criticism

My friend Rabbi Alan Henkin reminds us regularly of the Talmudic caution (Yevamot 65b), Rabbi Ilea said in the name of R. Eleazar son of R. Shimon: Just as one is commanded to say that which will be heard, so one is commanded not to say that which will not be heard. As it is written, “Do not rebuke a scoffer, for he will hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8). Was this woman just a “scoffer”, one who expresses disdain about everything? I really didn’t know anything about her. Perhaps her child was struggling in school and she was asking advice about how to handle the situation. Perhaps she spent a horrible morning in the hospital, caring for a family member, and now, emotionally exhausted from trying to “hold it together,” she inadvertently lashed out. Was her marriage in trouble and just at that moment, she was sharing her fears for the first time with a friend? I know that if I were in emotional turmoil, I would not react kindly to any kind of rebuke. Especially from someone shouting drive-by criticism.

With this new perspective, I started feeling a little guilty for being so public about my rebuke, wishing I had taken the time to address the problem privately. Yet, at the same time, I am still stinging from her two word response: “Shut Up!” And I know that she was making it unsafe for her, for other drivers and for the students.

Talkback

As I grapple with this issue, I would love to hear you weigh in:

  • What is your reaction to my critique and to her response?
  • Are these issues “black and white”? If not, where is the grey?
  • Do you agree with Maimonides’ instructions that we should “administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly, and point out that [we are] only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good”?
  • How do you react to Rabbi Ilea’s caution that “one is commanded not to say that which will not be heard”?

As always, I invite your insights and comments.

17 comments

  1. D. Pattiz says:

    Your comments really strike home. I am reminded of a similar situation when I was in Costco recently. I had filled two of those large palletes with items we were purchasing to donate to our elementary school’s auction. I must admit to feeling a little righteous at the moment.

    I parked the palletes near a table and got myself and the kids some lunch. When I got back I found a family of four sitting at the table where we had (obviously to me) intended to sit so we could be near our mountain of goods.

    I mentioned, in maybe a slightly irritated voice, that we were planning to sit there. The father said the one word always calculated to set me off — “relax.” At which point, I was anyhting but.

    They moved, there were no blows, and I quickly realized that I had probably not approached him in as gentle a manner as I could have. Although he had done something that was annoying to me, he probably didn’t mean it and I could have gotten the same result without the bruised egos and feelings.

    This incident has stuck with me because I wish I had gone up to the person and apologized, but I did not. In the same way you stewed about your parking lot conversation, and thus detracted from the attention to your boys, I stewed about this incident — for quite a while actually. And, the thing that made me the most embarassed was that I could have done it better, could have fixed the mistake, but did neither.

    We would all do well to try and adopt the teachings set forth in your note.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Rabbi,

    What you encountered is simply the way of the “folks” in Calabasas. Unfortunately, this attitude reflects on many of the locals in this area. These women took offense, because they feel they own the neighborhood and can do as they please. With eyes wide open, you’ll see them driving while talking on their cell phones, turning without signaling, stopping for no reason, and doing makeup when the light is green. Should you slightly “tap” on your horn, you get a barrage of name calling and “middle” finger pointing. You didn’t sin my dear Rabbi, you only tried to help, and look what the ending result was. You should know better. I say “welcome” to Calabasas!

  3. gas says:

    First, I am sure your comments were delivered in your typical calm and caring manner and secondly I am confident this was another typical person in this community who is so affected with there over the top ego and sense of entitlement. Move on there are others that appreciate your help, insight and passion.

  4. Liberal Jew says:

    Rabbi-

    I feel like you did the right and the wrong thing. In that second you spoke to this woman it seems like you were no long just the a commuter you were a rabbi: a teacher, a leader. However this woman, regardless of what she was dealing with personally, saw you as a car driving man who was telling her what to do.

    Jews are the kings of over analyzing. From the Talmud to the Future of an Illusion, from Maimonides to Wise, we think everything through too much.

    It would be to our benefit if we could truly just take a step back and look at what happened, not what may have been happening.

    The rabbis you quote in this post do not say to rebuke such a person. You did not, however the rabbis tell us this because deep down you wanted to get out and school this woman who gave you such ‘tude.

    The ball game is where you head should have been, not with this woman who was rude. You are right to be conflicted, that is why the rabbis wrote what they did. But if you ask me, your sin wasn’t the question of asking her to move, but over analyzing the situation and then being distracted…

  5. Liz Brasler says:

    I say that she was hostile, you were concerned about the safety of a large number of children. It sounds like your delivery was not harsh. You’ve looked at your part in the situation and I think praying for her serenity to return is all that’s needed.

    Liz Brasler

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi Rabbi,
    As I drive my daughter to school each morning to AC Stelle it never ceases to amaze me that many people, adults and children refuse to follow the basic rules in the carpool lanes. My daughter begs me NOT to honk my horn when the cars do not move at a green arrow, nor when parents stop to let their kids off in the NON STOPPING part of the carpool lane. I take a deep breath and wait to do the right thing. I have always believed that leading by example is the best way to teach our children and others. Up until about 8 years ago I thought it was my duty to tell people when I thought they were putting themselves or others in harms way. Likewise to tell when they had “the story” wrong. What I learned from a very wise woman is that “who said it was your job to do this?” I discovered that like you, I would get the raw end of a tounge lashing for speaking up with these strangers. When it comes to our true friends and family I believe it is our duty to speak up. Yet even then, we must sometimes hold our tongue unless asked. You should not feel guilty over what you did. This woman was to blame for doing the wrong thing and also for being rude to you, no matter what her reason. She very easily could have continued her conversation on the other side of the car. Please do not feel badly about this. SHE WAS WRONG, NOT YOU! Beth Lee

  7. Janet Nathanson says:

    I completely agree with your effort to keep the kids and the woman safe. I think I would have done the same thing, and I would have been just as offended by her response. When I first read her response to you: “Shut up!” I immediately wondered if she would have said that if she knew who you were. Just as you pondered the different paradigms that would bring her to say that, she would likely be completely embarassed if she knew she had told a Rabbi to shut up! Talk about a sin!

    The lesson in this story is that we should always treat others with kindness and respect…and love.

    Did you? Your intention was to do that, but maybe not….maybe it would have been better to pull over and address her quietly and privately. But you were anxious to get home and it was inconvenient to do that.

    Did she? Certainly not. She took your concern to be meddling and lashed out to save face, or worse, show her power.

    Thank you for the reminder. As we go through life, with all its challenges, we can help each other and be helped…by showing care, compassion, tolerance, and love for each other.

  8. Judy Forusz says:

    Your commentary struck a chord with me. Some years ago we lived on a cul de sac in a NJ suburb. The children & their mothers waited at the end of the cul de sac where it met the main road for the school bus.Every morning on my way to work I encountered the mothers doubled parked, chatting, blocking traffic & no one watching the children as they ran into the street. I often thought of calling the police to report this dangerous situation, but never did. I feared my identity would be revealed to my neighbors & we would be shunned. I simply bit my tongue & drove extra carefully around the cars & children.

    In retrospect, I should have spoken to one of the mothers at another time & place & voiced my concerns when I was calm, not irritated. While you did the right thing in pointing out a dangerous situation, perhaps the manner & circumstance of the rebuke evoked the rude response. I wonder if you had parked & spoken to her outside of the car, if she would have been so rude.
    Somehow I think that you being inside the car made it “safe” for her to be rude.

  9. Jill Granick says:

    How can your wanting to ensure the safety of this unaware woman be construed as sinning? Of course, it is always best to rebuke in private. However, the circumstance did not allow for privacy and didn’t necessarily even call for gentleness. No matter what the circumstance of her day or her conversation, the fact remained that she was endangering herself and others. Because of her being so full of herself, she brought discomfort to you who was trying to “wake her up” to the predicament she was potentially causing. Give yourself a break! You did a mitzvah for her and all those she was unconsciously endangering. Her rude response, likely because of embarassment, does not diminish the good deed you did.

  10. Helene says:

    You were totally justified in speaking your mind to what could have been a dangerous situation. She sounded self absorbed by putting herself and others in dangers way, then by her utterly unecesary rude comment, “shut up.” What you said and how you said it didn’t sound offensive. If she was a kind, considerate person she would have accepted what you said, maybe appologized, and moved her car. I am constantly appalled at some of the adult behavior here in Calabasas.

  11. Roza Besser says:

    Anger, lack of civility, and focus only on one’s own’s needs seems to be the pervading culture of our times. A sad commentary on our American “civilization.”
    Move on, Rabbi. Your next good deed will affect a positive change and your thoughts will make us think and aspire to do the right thing.

  12. Sandy Stein says:

    Once again, we are faced with the selfishness of others. I don’t understand why it is that people think rules, common sense, and politeness are for “others”,and not for them.
    You were kind enough to make a genuine caring comment to this woman. You explained the situation, and didn’t just blow your horn or your cool. She obviously heard you the first time, and was challenging you by ignoring you, hoping you would go away. When you decided to explain the second time why she needed to “do the right thing”, she couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse for misbehaving, so when all else fails, say “SHUT UP”.
    I find quite routinely, that many people today take little or no responsibility for their actions or inactions. Rather, they make up excuses trying to explain their poor behavior. This woman should have apologized to you after you first told her why she needed to move. I applaud you for speaking your mind when peoples’ safety was an issue. So many times, we prefer to keep quiet, so we don’t “ruffle feathers”. Unfortunately when we don’t speak up, people continue to do the things they always do, and are not ever held accountable. Rabbi, you did the right thing, and I am glad you got to the scene first, because had it been me, there would have been more than a “Shut Up” that would have been bantied about.

  13. Anonymous says:

    How often do you let other people’s nonsense change
    Your mood? Do you let a bad driver, rude waiter, curt boss,
    or an insensitive employee ruin your day? Unless you’re the
    Terminator, for an instant you’re probably set back on your
    heels. However, the mark of a successful person is how quickly
    She can get back her focus on what’s important.

    Sixteen years ago I learned this lesson.
    I learned it in the back of a New York City taxi cab.
    Here’s what happened:
    I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station. We were driving in the right lane when, all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us.
    My taxi driver slammed on his breaks, skidded,
    And missed the other car’s back end by just inches!

    The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and he started yelling bad words at us.

    My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy.
    And I mean, he was friendly.
    So, I said, “Why did you just do that?
    This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!”
    And this is when my taxi driver told me what I
    now call, “The Law of the Garbage Truck.”

    Many people are like garbage trucks.
    They run around full of garbage, full of frustration,
    Full of anger, and full of disappointment.
    As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it.
    And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.
    When someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally.
    You just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on.
    You’ll be happy you did.

    AND… I find at this time of my life, I do say something if someone is doing something that isn’t just dumb or annoying, but is endangering a child. I am very aware of my words and body language, and a shut up is mild compared to some responses.

  14. George Weinstock says:

    One thing I have found that usually works in a situation such as this – is to just sit there in my car, keep staring at the woman – saying nothing but staring and holding up traffic so that the row of cars behind me would start blowing their horns which she would have to hear and see. You wait long enough and she will move, realizing that you have outwitted her without saying a single word and without making a single hand gesture. You didn’t even have to blow your horn – the people behind you did that for you.

  15. Adam Chambers says:

    Well Rabbi Paul,

    Let’s get one thing straight, Calabasas and entitlement go hand in hand!

    Perhaps your tone might have been softer, perhaps you might have pulled over and gently cautioned, perhaps you might have smiled and said with love…Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Of coarse none of wants to meet on the lowest common denominator but everyday life can catch us all a little off guard, (even if you are a beloved, fabulous and enlightened Rabbi). This is pressed to us even more so when we want to forget about work and get home to play with our children. Your intentions and your “reprove” were sound, not to mention that what this women was doing was dangerous for the rest of the community!

    Paul, my thinking is thus, you did the right thing no matter what your tone, intention or whatever, these words needed to be spoken. What this women was doing was selfish and unsafe, no matter her tone or intention. In my humble opinion, your problem was that you took her words personally. Judging? How could she? She doesn’t know you, she has no idea what you are about.

    Again, I think any of us with half a brain or love for our children and fellow man in our hearts would absolutely have done the same thing. The situation was not safe! If she has a problem with life, health, children etc. Have a problem in a safe place so that she doesn’t create more problems for the rest of us, due to her being self-centered.

    Let it go. You care and prove everyday, enough said.

  16. Allison Ross says:

    From my experience, these people are rude, selfish and uncaring. They are not worth the time and sensitivity put into this. Move on to people who want help.
    I know this sounds very hard and cold and un-rabbi-like. I never respond to things like this. This is a first. However, this is my first impression.

    Allison Ross

  17. Lisa says:

    The situation reminds me of that new age self-help book THE FOUR AGREEMENTS. You stayed true to the first agreement, “Be impeccable with your word.” Had you not, you probably would have stewed about not saying anything all day long. You came to a realization about the second agreement, “Don’t take things personally” because you can’t be respsonsible for someone’s actions or words — the “shut up” probably had nothing or very little to do with you. We’re all breaking the third agreement which is “Don’t make assumptions,” which is hard not to do when analyzing something. And you definitely held fast to the fourth agreement which is “Do you best,” and that is what you did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *