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Parshas Bo - The Rules of the Road                5th of Shvat 5780

01/31/2020 11:17:36 AM


It is now forty years since I began driving an automobile. I took driver’s education and it was through them I got my license, but it was my mother, of blessed memory, who taught me how to drive. Ove the years I’ve heard that I have a reputation of being a New York driver. Some passengers in my car requested double seat belts and a parachute with an optional eject button just in case they needed access to an early departure. New York drivers are known to be aggressive; it is a direct correlation to the aggressiveness of daily life in New York city. In contrast, living in Charleston, South Carolina, cars can be sold with a horn because no one ever beeps such a rude, noisy device. The pace, speed and style of driving is completely different from place to place. I clearly experienced this throughout the years but learning to drive was in New York city. Years later, I needed to adjust my driving habits and change my skills while living in the south. Every culture, society, and people develop different habits in every area of life, including the art of driving. Once again, it is the influence of who, where, and why someone is in a place that directly affects how they drive.

Since my family and I have had the experience of living in different parts of the country, our driving habits have been shaped to conform to the patterns of that locale. When I am back in New York, I need to say to myself, “Okay. I need to revert back to my New York aggressive style of driving.” This may include any or all of the following: weaving in and out of traffic, cutting someone off, honking the horn until my palms ache, cut off careless pedestrians, and so forth. When I return to San Diego, I revert back to my definition of a less-aggressive driving style while still reserving the option of the old school driving whenever I deem it to be necessary.

Today, I live in a community that has a major university located in the heart of the neighborhood. Forty thousand plus students mill around what’s known as the College Area throughout each semester. There is an incredible drop in traffic school as soon as winter break, spring break, or summer vacation begins followed by an enormous rise in traffic as soon as school resumes. It is a great relief for those who live in the area during summer, winter, and the shorter breaks throughout the year.

Driving or walking through the streets unfettered by strolling students and cars and busses clogging the roadways can be a time-consuming and stressful experience. Just as there is relief and more air to breath when the students are gone, so too is there more stress and anxiety when the students return. All breaks, short or long, are not only a vacation for the students; they are also a much-appreciated vacation for those of us who live here. Drivers get quickly acclimated to open streets, allowing quicker access to and from the freeway into the neighborhood. Even the freeways see a decrease in the flow of traffic because all schools around the city are also on break. The flip side of this traffic swing is also apparent. During breaks I adjust my driving times based upon the joy of minimum traffic. Unfortunately, it takes a few days to recalibrate my driving times when the city streets fill up again. This phenomenon affected me no less than three times this week as I was running late due to the forgotten traffic conditions I now face until spring break. I was fascinated to learn that I am just a “subject” on driving patterns. Please read on…

A group of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego found that they could "fingerprint" drivers based exclusively on data they collected from the internal computer network of the vehicle their test subjects were driving. This is known as a car's CAN bus. In fact, they found that the data collected from a car's brake pedal alone could allow them to correctly distinguish the correct driver from 15 individuals about nine times out of ten, after just 15 minutes of driving. With 90 minutes driving data or monitoring more car components, these researchers could pick out the correct driver 100 percent of the time. Bear in mind, despite the recent study shown, the concept of travel is not a new one. It dates back thousands of years as we follow the Jewish people who, for most of our existence, have been on the road. A simple illustration of this found in this week’s Torah reading.

In this week’s Sedra Bo the Torah states in Shmos 12:37"ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כשש מאות אלף רגלי הגברים לבד מטף" “The Israelites traveled from Ramses toward Sukkoth. There were about 600,000 adult males on foot, in addition to the women and children. In addition, great number of nationalities also left with them along with sheep and cattle, and a huge amount of livestock”. The Torah describes an incredible size of live traffic moving out of Egypt on its way to an unknown place, all following Moshe Rabbeinu to the promised land. We’ve learned how the Jews were forced to flee quickly, not even having the time to allow their bread to rise. Somehow, they managed to travel quickly despite the size of the camp. We know what it is like to go on a family trip, complicated by multiple generations, each person moving at his/her own pace. Children, especially young ones who want to walk and not be carried, are typically slower than the young, healthy adults. The senior population would yell to the younger generation, “Go ahead, keep going, don’t wait. We’ll catch up.” Despite and slavery and suffering, leaving a land they knew as home was also painful. Change is frightening, especially when traveling into the unknown. Nevertheless, with all of the obstacles and challenges, Hashem made it happen. Everyone was able to keep up the pace; despite their own patterns of travel, they stayed together. My guess from studying the sources was that no one bumped into others or stepped on the back of the sandal of the person in front of them. The miracles that included the actual leaving and traveling was no less miraculous than these other overlooked miracles. The people, all inexperienced travelers, adapted well to their surroundings. No one went too fast or too slow.

Our modern living style, overlaid with commuting, picking up our children, driving all over the place calculating when to leave and how much time is needed get to the next destination, relies routinely on the car’s nav system, WAZE, or Google Maps. It behooves us to keep in mind who is really controlling those apps. All of these devices, ingenious creations of man are, in fact, guides from Hashem. The prayer of Tefilas HaDerech is recited on trips when leaving a city or when departing for longer journeys. Even though we may not be obligated to say the Bracha/blessing of the wayfarer’s prayer, we should always keep in mind that the roads and traffic are still controlled by Hashem. If we keep this thought in mind, our driving will be safer, our blood pressure and anxiety levels will drop, and ultimately this will bring us to the Derech Hashem, the Path of God.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sun, June 20 2021 10 Tammuz 5781