We drove to Rochester in frightful conditions. Leaving the northern New Jersey area there was no snow, just patches of dense fog. However, as we got further north towards Albany and above, the roads became more and more treacherous. Blowing snow, whiteouts, black ice. We looked at each other and knew that we had made a bad decision. True, we were heading for a simcha and were anxious to participate in it, but how much responsibility were we really taking for our own actions?
At the same time that we were driving to Rochester, others were driving to Montreal for another simcha. Even worse road conditions. Cars swerving off the Northway onto the sides of the highway. Total whiteouts. Two busses full of young bochurim on their way to be m’sameach their friend and classmate for his aufruf. The chartered bus company was hesitant to make the trip through the night but agreed and each bus drove close to the other in order to give each other light and comfort in case there was an accident. Family members drove through the night with the knowledge that, in the best of circumstances, that particular road has no services at all from Lake George to Plattsburgh.
We are all guilty of making decisions when we know that we are taking a chance by driving in such atrocious conditions. We have done it many times. We remember how many times we would opt to get off the highway but then could not find the exit due to the extremely snowy and blowy conditions. What is it that encourages us within ourselves to do what we know down deep is extremely foolish?
As we get older we realize that we all were of the same school of thought. Nothing will happen as long as we drive slowly and are careful. Wrong. What we forget to include in these thoughts is that life is really not in our control, no matter how slowly and carefully we drive.
We remember the evening when a chassidishe couple left a wedding in Montreal. Their thinking was that they would dance, laugh, enjoy and then be on their way. For several days there was no word from this couple. The passage, as we noted, between Plattsburgh and Lake George not only does not have services but does not have towers to pick up phone receivers. This couple, whose car had fallen into a ditch, was found several days later. The husband had passed away with his wife lying semi conscious on the seat next to him. Did they know that it is never a good idea to drive on a dark road with no services in the middle of the night? Of course they did. Once again common sense plays no role in these decisions. Could whatever they were rushing back to New York for have waited for them? In retrospect we are all so smart. Yet we repeat these stories time and time again and very few of us let them influence our decisions.
In every walk of life, as we have spoken about in the past, each situation does not seem to apply to ourselves. Men are still completely dressed in dark clothing while walking on the streets, primarily on Shabbat, without donning the sashes that every rav begs their baalabatim to wear. Bikers pedal through streets at night without any type of reflectors. People cross streets with their heads down as they concentrate on their cell phones instead of watching for cars that may be driving near them.
Every one of us is guilty and each of us is of the mindset that “things” only happen to other people. Otherwise, why would we do them? We do not have the answers but we realize that we must take responsibility for ourselves. Having an accident and blaming it on black ice does not soften the realization that in certain conditions one should not be driving no matter what. When it is pitch black on the streets we must take responsibility for walking and crossing safely because by not doing so we are only abetting what could be a horrific situation.
Last week as we drove between Syracuse and Rochester on the New York State Thruway with hardly any visibility, we hope that we finally heard the wake up call regarding the choices that we make with that old idea of being indestructible. We must make these decisions in a more responsible fashion. The party can definitely go on without us. None of us is that important and it is time that we realize that, as Nina’s mother always said, “one cannot tanse at alle simchas,” especially if it puts your life in danger.
By Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Gllick