The other day we were driving to the airport to attend a summit alongside hundreds of other Jewish college students and young professionals from across the world. I was waiting to turn left onto the highway in a brutal long line. As the light turned green, and I started inching forward to execute the left turn, to my dismay, a car right in front of me stopped before the light, to give money to a fellow who was standing on the curb, asking the passing cars for money. After giving the money, he conveniently still had time to make the turn, but I missed it, and I was stuck at the light for another couple minutes, due to his act of kindness.
As I have documented in these pages before, I tend to be a pretty patient dude. Not a whole lot rocks my boat. But one massive pet peeve of mine is when I miss a light due to folks in front of me not going on time. Ninety-nine percent of the time its because they were too busy looking at their phones, likely admiring my burgeoning TikTok channel @therealtiktokrabbi, to notice that the light turned green, and when I miss a light due to this egregious behavior, it takes every tool in my massive repertoire of sterling character traits to not become upset.
So as I was stuck at yet another light, on my way to the airport, I was pretty annoyed.
But then I asked myself, if I should, in fact, be annoyed that I am stuck at this light because the dude or dudette in front of me did a very nice thing for another human being clearly in dire need of help?
And I turn to you–my dear hundreds upon hundreds of readers and subscribers across the globe, from Uzbekistan to Malaysia–and I ask you, is it right for a person to hold up other cars at a turn light if it means they can help someone in need?
At first I concluded that maybe it was fine what the car in front of me did– the benefit to that person in all likelihood was greater than the harm caused to us who needed to wait for an extra light.
But, a friend of mine who was flying to the same event I was, later told me he had overslept, and made his flight by a matter of seconds. What if it was he in the car? What if he missed his flight, and they closed the gate at the airport 20 seconds before he arrived? Would that change the equation?
I still don’t know the correct answer, but I am inclined to think that this discussion relates to an idea advanced by Maimonides. Maimonides describes how in general, in working on one’s character traits, a person ought to pursue the middle path, and should veer far away from the extremes on both sides. People should not give away or spend all their money so they themselves have none, whilst at the same time they should not be overly stingy, never spending or giving.
Similarly, while the trait of kindness is clearly an important trait that is vital for us to cultivate and develop, the principle of Maimonides rings true as well– on one hand a person should not be callous and refuse to ever help people; while on the other hand, he/she should also not be overly generous, never saying no to anyone. There is a happy medium to be straddled. While it was very kind of the fellow in front of to give money to the person in need of help on the side of the road, it was at the same time unkind and insensitive to cause the cars behind him to miss the light.
Whenever we do a kindness for someone else, we must be careful that the kind act to one person will not result in an unkind act to another.
This is my gut reaction, and although extremely unlikely, I might be wrong.
What do you think? Please post in the comments if you think it was right for the person to give money to the guy in need, or if it was wrong inasmuch as it inconvenienced others to miss the light.