Living in the fast lane is not for us by Rabbi Y. R. Rubin Shlita

 Living in the fast lane is not for us

By Harav Yitzchak Reuven Rubin

Have you ever come across the expression “a New York minute”? For the uninitiated it describes a measure of time that compresses much into a mere sixty seconds. New Yorkers are known for their intensity and their ability to cram into a short time more than what seems humanly possible. This is often at the expense of those mere humans who are just hoping to live life at the normal rate. A short walk in Manhattan will illustrate what we are talking about. Everyone is in a rush, focused on their needs and wants to the exclusion of any one crossing their path.  As one who is New York- born and raised, I have long been bemused at the intensity of life lived there, although it was one of the driving forces that led us to leave that fair place over thirty five years ago.   Sadly such minutes seem to have become the norm for more than denizens of New York. With the advent of cell phones it seems that all manners have been thrown aside and everyone is walking around acting as if they are being transported in their own little private bubble, and woe betide  anyone who gets in their way.  In fact, the expression “New York minute” is really out of date, or perhaps the notion of a minute having actually sixty seconds- and not more- is. Visit any place in the world and you will find people glued to their plastic gizmos of individual distraction, so enveloped in their own world that it seems nothing else matters.

“We must give our young the wherewithal to rise above the crudeness of a self-centered world and teach them by example what it means to be a holy people”

Recently, I had the merit to spend some time in Yerusholayim, and believe me, New Yorkers can learn a thing or two from just experiencing an erev Shabbos in Yerusholayim. There is a famous central crossroad named Kikar Shabbos in the heart of the shopping district. The place intersects a number of busy streets and its traffic control is uniquely set up. At a given moment all pedestrians are stopped and traffic barrels about in what seems to be ten different directions. Pedestrians stand on the four corners as if awaiting the starter gun in a relay race. Suddenly the lights change, traffic stops and everyone runs across the street. This can make for difficult moments, especially if like myself, one has reached three score and ten and may not be as agile on one’s feet as before. My last encounter went something like this: on two diagonal corners there were banners spread out awakening all to the need to firstly, heed the vital laws of tzenius, and secondly, be constantly aware of the need to be vigilant in matters concerning the Internet. Both corners had adherents to their particular cause who were busy calling out to everyone in hearing distance the dangers involved if one lacks understanding in these truly vital matters. All this noise made it hard to follow what was being said but no matter, everyone was focused on the imminent changing of the lights and the run across the street. Now this is no simple jog. In fact, it is more of an obstacle course. You see, when the lights change, some vehicles get caught in the middle of the road. When the said vehicles are double decker buses, well then the run really gets interesting. It sort of takes on an “every man for himself”

flavour, except it’s not only men involved. Tens of people are at each corner, panting in readiness for that light change and when it happens, well, as they say in old New York,”Fuhgeddaboudit”!

My last foray into the fray left me being poked in the chest by an otherwise frum young lady who just was blinded by her need to get through the small space between two buses. As I turned around a caring tatty pushing a baby buggy rolled it over my feet. I am sure he meant to say “excuse me” but his conversation over the phone was obviously more important.

I share all this because it is indicative of a morass that is settling into our holy nation. If the world at large is busy trampling all others around them underfoot, it may not be nice, but when Hashem’s chosen people do it, the continuity of the world may well hang in the balance. Our role in this world is to create a

Kiddush Hashem and being considerate of others is a major tool in creating such kedusha.  It is the height of folly to believe that careening along, knocking over others in the process, is somehow going to get you to your destination any faster. Bad manners are just that: bad.  Even more, they are a symptom of a callousness that indicates a neshoma that has lost touch with its own reality. “New York minutes” may be fine for others, but we should be better than that. How can we expect our children to grow up in a spiritually caring way if all they see is the boorish behaviour of their elders? We are now learning Pirkei Avos, a collection of directives that are geared towards teaching us how to be a Torah yid. We learn these valuable lessons as a prelude to Shavuos when we celebrate our receiving the Holy Torah. The operative word here is “Holy” –kodosh- which means separate. We must give our young the wherewithal to rise above the crudeness of a self-centred world and teach them by example what it means to be a holy people. Reading seforim, participating in a Shabbos afternoon shiur may well be a very good thing, but is not enough. We must inculcate these directives into our real lives, and create minutes of meaningful existence, not cheap moments filled with egocentric selfishness.

The days of Sefirah are a time of general sadness. The thousands of talmidim of Rebbe Akiva died in this time basically because they had lost the ability of giving honour to one another. The “New York minute” as practiced by many of us is indicative of such behaviour. What better time than now to be working on this?

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