Tuesday, May 26, 2015
"Don't Forget, G-d also Made New Jersey"-- Profound Insights on the Garden State Parkway
This past Friday morning, I loaded up Hindy the Hyundai with two suitcases, my four delicious children, and the Better Half, and we set off on the road, traveling to the holy city of Lakewood, NJ for the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, the holiday that commemorates the Jewish People receiving the Torah. Unbeknownst to me, this year, Shavuos coincided neatly with Memorial Day, and it is a major travel weekend. As we set out on the road, I thought, "This will be a piece of cake! Lakewood is 3.25 hours away, my kids are excited to see their cousins, and my wife and I can have some good old fashion chattin' time in the car!" As predicted, the first part of the ride went amazing. The kids were happy eating the endless supply of snacks we packed, and my wife and I were having heartfelt discussions in which we dissected our dreams, goals and aspirations. We thought, "hey, this is going so swell, why don't we go ahead and stop in Monsey at my favorite Pizza place in the world, Pita Land, the home of the infamous blizzard pizza, the pizza that I am salivating over at this very moment, just by writing about it." Sure enough, we stopped there, and we savored the delicious pizza, sushi, and these little heavenly doughy balls rolled in powdered sugar. After that, we stopped at a book store, to pick up some inspiring Jewish books, and then we hit the road for what should have been an hour and a half drive down to Lakewood. As soon as we hit the Garden State Parkway, we were stopped in bumper to bumper traffic. I thought, that's strange, we are we literally stopped on Friday at 1:00 PM? At 1:01 I turned on 1010 Wins, and my boy Pete Toriello informed me that due to Memorial Day weekend, traffic everywhere was awful. Still, I didn't understand why so many thousands of cars were going to New Jersey. Like, I hear they might want to travel to New York, Vermont, Connecticut, heck, even Pennsylvania. But I was unable to fathom why so many people were traveling to New Jersey.
Regardless, I tried to stay optimistic, and I announced in the car, as we were literally stopped in stop and go traffic, "Don't worry kiddos and Better Half, we only have another 95 miles to go on this lovely highway!" And right as my optimism bucket had reached its peak, my lovely, perfect 4 month old daughter started screaming. But Henry, I am not referring to the type of screaming that I do when riding a roller coaster or tubing down a massive Vail Mountain tubing run. I mean like shrieking. The type of shrieking I did in Washington heights when I first saw a cockroach. But at least that shrieking I did stopped after two minutes. Little Tzippy, or Zippy is I sometimes lovingly refer to her was not just shrieking for two minutes. Because two minutes became three minutes. And three minutes became five minutes. and five minutes became six minutes. And six minutes became seven minutes. After about fifteen minutes of listening to unrelenting shrieking, I thought, gee, our 30 hour cross country road trip in July is just going to be lovely! And then I thought, maybe if I roll down all of our windows, the sound of traffic will make everything better and, maybe the cars will hear her and move out of my way so I can get there already. Surprisingly, my strategy did not pay off.
After about 20 minutes of this, the Garden State Parkway split off into express lanes, and local lanes. I thought, for sure everyone is going to be in the local lanes so they can get off the highway whenever they want! I will go ahead in the express lane, and then get their very fast! Sure enough, I was wrong. And as I saw the cars in the local plane flying past me, as we were stuck literally not moving, I became enraged with jealousy. I longed to get to the local lanes. I hoped that those cars in the local lanes would slow down, so that I would be the one gliding past them. Eventually, I got to the local lane, and I did in fact cruise past the suckers in the express lane, and it felt amazing. I even literally stuck my hand out the window and waved to them as I passed them by, leaving them like dust in the metaphorical wind. And then I stopped again, and they sped up, and I felt the rage returning like an unwanted centipede who invades your bathroom.
And I realized, dearest Henry, how messed up I was acting. Judaism has a lot to say about this lovely episode on the Parkway. Firstly, the Talmud teaches that jealousy is one of the absolute worst character traits a person can have. A jealous person can never be content. He is always comparing himself to others. If he is making $100,000, and his neighbor is at $115,000, his very respectable $100,000 is almost meaningless to him. He is driven to get the $115,000 his friend has. Jealousy ruins people, causes them to lose rationality, and their ability to think. If a person is not happy with his lot, and is not happy with what he has, he will live a life of misery. Living a life constantly comparing yourself to others is no way to live a life.
In addition, the Torah teaches famously that we have to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. That is a very difficult commandment to keep; how exactly can we be expected to love everyone like we love ourselves? Some commentaries explain that we should genuinely be happy for people in their triumphs, just like we would be happy for ourselves. When our neighbor gets a raise, we should be happy for him. When our cousin has a child after being married for a year, even though we have not been successful in having children despite trying for the last five years, we should be happy for them. When our roommate we have been living with for the last five years gets engaged, while I am still not, I should be genuinely happy for her. And when the cars are cruising past me in the local lane, I should be happy for them.
Finally, another lesson to learn is that Judaism teaches that not only did G-d create the world, but He continually runs it and sustains it, and He is involved in each and every one of our lives in an extremely intimate way. When the traffic is rough, and the baby is screaming, this is the situation that G-d wants me to be in right now. He doesn't want me looking around, focussing on how so many more people have it better for me. He wants me to keep focussed on the road ahead, and work with what I have, to make the best of it, and remember that this is an opportunity for me to grow and ultimately become closer to Him. Henry, keep in mind they don't call me Rabbi D-Swolle for nothing. I am not brolic by going to the gym and lifting the bar a few times. I am huge because when I go the gym, I load up that bad boy with a large number of plates, and I move the weight. I sweat. Heck, I shvitz. I grunt. It's hard. But thats how I grow; thats how I am huge. I need to focus on moving the weight above me at this very moment; not focus on how that little guy over there is easily benching fifty pounds.
As we were finally getting closer to our destination, and I was mumbling about New Jersey under my breath, the Better Half profoundly said, "Don't forget, G-d also made New Jersey." Indeed, He did make New Jersey, and I am darn grateful He taught me so many darn profound life insights from my short stay there.