I was out shopping with my kids last Sunday and was getting ready to load the trunk of our van when I realized that I left a box in the trunk that needed to be transferred to the front seat. I must have misjudged the space between the cars in the parking lot or the bulk of that box: as I removed the box from thee front seat I accidentally (ever so gently) scraped the box against the parked car in the adjacent spot. The window of the newly scratched car immediately rolled down to reveal an angry fellow yelling a litany of vulgarities about parking too close to his car. I turned around and immediately began to apologize to my new acquaintance. I was wrong—I had bumped into his car and it was my responsibility. When our eyes eventually met, his demeanor suddenly and drastically changed. He began apologizing profusely, and said (no kidding, the following is an exact quote), “I am so sorry. You are Jewish, you are blessed, you can scratch my car anytime! Please forgive me.” He quickly and nervously drove away, the whole time muttering “bless you, bless you, bless you.”
I would like to agree and respectfully disagree with my parking lot neighbor and share a lesson that struck me. I agree that the Jewish People are chosen and blessed. What is the Torah paradigm of being chosen and blessed? Please read Jewish FAQ’s #8 and #9 for a short answer to this very profound and important question. However, I disagree in that I do not believe that being chosen and blessed is a good excuse to scratch someone’s car.
What lesson do I learn from a misguided parking lot neighbor with a hot temper? We must be so careful in our interactions with others. It seemed to me that this fellow did not have many close interactions with Jews, and it is possible that I was the only Jew he knowingly interacted with in the last week, last month, or last year. What image did I leave him with? Jews scratch their neighbors’ cars. Sometimes we may feel that we can fly under the radar, and that when we are in a random parking lot on a Sunday afternoon we don’t have to be on our best behavior. This fellow reminded me that this is not the case. As the Chosen People, we are always on duty. We are indeed a “holy nation (Exodus 19:6)” and because of that people will pass judgement on the Torah and even on the Almighty based on our actions.
We all want to bring goodness and Torah values to the world. To do that effectively, we need to be sure that our most casual interactions always bring honor to ourselves, the Almighty, and to the Torah that he entrusted us to model and teach.