Thursday, June 01, 2023

Devarim: 22:1-4

The Walgreens parking lot on Washington Avenue was a train wreck. The spaces were too close together, and the whole lot was overcrowded. It was a wonder cars didn’t smash into each other all the time.

Oscar Shapiro had gone to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription of acne cream for his daughter. It was a routine run, nothing out of the ordinary. He bought a Snickers bar at the checkout line. He would consume it in the car and dispose of the wrapper where his wife wouldn’t see it. She would never know that he had cheated on his diet. A victimless crime.

Oscar was not accustomed to driving his wife’s minivan. His Mazda 3 was a cute little car and was easily maneuverable. The Grand Caravan was massive by comparison. Pulling this hulking behemoth into and out of a space was like trying to maneuver an aircraft carrier through the Panama Canal during a grade five hurricane, or so it felt to him. It’s true that Chrysler provided an excellent backup camera, so there was no excuse for what happened, but still, Oscar was definitely outside his comfort zone.

He had cleared the Dodge pickup truck on his left and the Mitsubishi Mirage on his right with inches to spare. He turned the steering wheel all the way right as he backed up. And that was when he felt the bump.

It hadn’t been too hard; a gentle tap, really. Like a mouse bumping into a doorway. A pin dropping to the floor. A small child tapping on a keyboard. But maybe it was a little harder than he thought. He got out to see what he had done.

The Grand Caravan was pristine. Not a scratch. But the red Mustang convertible he dinged had a small scuff on the bumper. Would he call it a dent? Yes, it was definitely a dent. And on second look it wasn’t so small. It was a legitimate dent. It was definitely noticeable.

He got behind the wheel of the minivan and pulled it to the side. Then he shut off the car, sat in the driver’s seat, and thought.

“Drive,” his brain said. “Drive away. Now.”

No one had seen the fender bender. No one saw him now. The Mustang’s driver might not notice it for days. He would have no idea when or where it occurred. These things happen. Bumpers will get scratched. That’s what they’re there for. One scratch is just not a federal case. If he hadn’t done it, it would have happened somewhere else. Big whopping deal.

How would he feel if someone did this to him? He might be annoyed. Certainly that would be his initial reaction. But after a few minutes he would shrug and move on. These things happen. It’s probably not even worth repairing. He might have even reasoned that the person who did it was completely unaware that he’d dented the car.

But he was aware. He knew he did it. And that changed everything.

He put the key back into the ignition. Then he pulled it out.

Oscar knew there was something apropos to this situation in that week’s parsha. What was it, Ki Taytze? He reached behind him to the second row of seats and pulled out a chumash that his son had left in the minivan over a week ago. (A minivan is a bottomless pit of storage for everything from soccer cleats to seforim to Snickers wrappers.)

He leafed through the pages of Devarim. Where was it?

It definitely had nothing to do with a woman captured in war. Nope, not the wayward and rebellious son. Definitely not the body on the gallows. Oh, there it was—

“You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off and hide yourself from them.”

Clearly this pasuk was suggesting that you should not allow your fellow man to incur financial loss if you could help it. And in this case he could definitely prevent any loss, especially since he was the one who had caused it. Auto body shops were definitely a source of financial loss.

But the word that got him was vehitalamta, and you hide yourself. Wasn’t that exactly what he was doing? He knew the right thing to do.

Oscar looked a few psukim later. The Torah even told you what to do about it!

“If your brother is not near you and you do not know him [could it be clearer that the Torah was talking to him?] then gather it inside your house and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires after it and you return it to him.”

Oscar pulled a business card from his wallet, wrote a note on the back, and stuck it beneath the windshield wiper of the red Mustang.

“So shall you do for his donkey [or Mustang!], so shall you do for his garment [or bumper], and so shall you do for any lost article of your brother that may become lost [or dented] from him and you find it, you shall not hide yourself.”

Oscar put the key back in the ignition and drove off.

It was amazing how the parsha had come through for him.

It definitely could have been worse. At least he didn’t need the psukim about going off to war or dealing with a kidnapping. That would really have been a bummer.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

Sign up now!