Driving on Woodvalley Drive the other day, I came to the intersection with Stevenson Road and stopped at the sign. Wanting to make a left turn, I saw that it was clear to my left. Looking right, I saw a car coming down the street. In a hurry to get to the synagogue, I decided I had enough time to turn. I quickly made my left turn.
Driving on Stevenson Road the white car now behind me sped up, the driver repeatedly honking his horn to make clear I was driving too slowly after cutting him off. I didn’t think either was true, but maybe. I made a safe turn, perhaps not a smart one.
Turning into the synagogue parking lot, I figured I would hear one last loud horn blast and the angry guy would drive on down the road. Instead, he turned into the lot and followed behind me honking his horn until I parked my car. Then he rolled down his window and yelled something like, “Going to synagogue doesn’t make you holier than the rest of us!” I turned, smiled, and with attitude wished him a good day. He yelled again. “You aren’t better than me, learn how to drive!” He drove away. I went to work.
Two things bother me about this five minute adventure. First, I’m a pretty good driver, but in my haste I may have turned too quickly. Okay, I’ll keep that in mind next time. Second, why would a man, a frustrated driver who didn’t know me or what I do at the synagogue, assume a “holier than thou” attitude about me or anyone else pulling onto the Chizuk Amuno campus?
We’ve all met religiously observant individuals who do display a “holier than thou” manner. We’ve all met people who come across as smug or arrogant, self aware of their knowledge of Jewish tradition or personal religious practice. Often they don’t mean what we perceive. It’s even possible some of us may be them now and again. Nevertheless, this isn’t the Jewish way. Judaism values humility. Judaism prizes the dignity of every person.
In Jewish religious life, we cover our heads as a demonstration of our humility before God and others. The Torah tells us about only one of Moses’ character traits. “Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other.” We don’t desire religious engagement to breed disrespect toward others. We seek to speak with kindness and empathy toward others.
This is what I want anyone driving by our synagogue campus to think of us. Valuing our Jewish heritage, this is how we want others to know us. I hope we believe in and can practice religious humility.
Driving behind me into our parking lot one day, a man with a negative attitude reminded me. We have to be aware of our values at all times, even when waiting at a stop sign to make a turn.