Tazria: ‘The Driving Test’

Yisrael had been more than a little apprehensive about taking his driving test. Most of his friends had passed theirs first time, and Yisrael knew that everyone expected the same from him. As he lay in bed thinking about all of the last minute advice his teacher had given him, an overwhelming drowsiness drew closed his heavy eyelids, and he fell sound asleep,

His nervousness produced dream after dream that night, each one picturing more vividly than the last how he was to fail the test. In the last dream he had before awaking, Yisrael’s mother was voicing her doubts about whether he would ever be able to pass:

“Come on, Yisrael! If you really think you’ll ever be able to pass a driving test, then you’re dreaming! Wake up! You’re dreaming! Wake up!”

Yisrael awoke with a start, His mother was standing over him, repeating the words,

“You’re dreaming! Wake up!”

Yisrael swung himself out of bed and washed his hands over the bowl at his feet. As he washed and dressed himself his head filled up with answers to questions that his instructor had prepared him to expect from the examiner. Every so often he would leave a piece of clothing hanging or unfastened as he rushed to his manual to look up a point that he could not remember properly. Having dressed himself smartly Yisrael left for shul.

Yisrael davened more sincerely than ever before. He also put generous donations into the tzedakah box upon both entering and leaving the shul. The fearful time was approaching as quickly as the racing-beat of his heart. He had only to turn into Old High Road and the Driving Test Centre would be a short distance on his right. Shortly before turning the corner Yisrael paused to look at a few points in his little notebook. Then, with a deep breath, he continued more confidently on his way, reaching the Test Centre in a matter of minutes.

The examiner put Yisrael at ease immediately with a comforting smile and some words of encouragement. Apart from anything else, it was a great relief for Yisrael that this examiner did not at all fit the descriptions commonly reserved for driving examiners, which portrayed them as quite merciless creatures who thrive on failing people. Feeling far more relaxed now, Yisrael was actually looking forward to the whole exercise.

There was one thing which was troubling him, however. A fairly dense mist had formed in the early hours of the morning, and had not yet lifted. Yisrael had not driven in such poor visibility before, and was uncertain as to what difficulties it might present. Nevertheless, as he walked with the examiner towards his instructor’s car, which the instructor had deliberately parked nearby the previous evening, Yisrael’s heart slowed to a steady jog as it began to fill with confidence.

As they approached the car, Yisrael began fumbling for his keys in his jacket pocket. The examiner asked him to stand still for a moment. Pointing to a car which was parked some twenty-five metres away, the examiner asked Yisrael to read aloud the registration plate. Yisrael took a tiny step forward and put all of his weight onto his right foot. The mist was making it difficult to focus on the number plate from this distance, and Yisrael asked if he could step closer.

The examiner had already realised that, considering the difficult conditions, he had chosen a car at slightly too great a distance from where they were standing, and was happy to consent to Yisrael’s request. Yisrael tried again, and this time he read the number plate correctly and without hesitation. The examiner noted on his clipboard that Yisrael’s eyesight was fine, and they both climbed into the car. Yisrael drove very well throughout, gave a correct answer to every question he was asked, and passed his test with flying colours.

Now that his driving test was out of the way, Yisrael had to begin putting all of his energy into studying for the final exams of his engineering degree. Although the course had by no means been easy, a combination of intelligence and hard work, both in good measure, had brought him this far with a string of examination successes. Indeed, his tutors had very high hopes for Yisrael, expecting him to do very well in whatever career he should eventually pursue.

In the final exams, Yisrael surpassed the expectations of even his closest tutor. There was now no reason for him to have any doubt at all about being able to enter his chosen profession, aeronautics. What Yisrael most wanted to be was a pilot, but he knew that pilots are often required to work on Shabbat. A little investigating, however, had led him to discover certain specialised engineering jobs which frequently require the engineer to be involved in test-flights. If the engineer himself is a qualified pilot, Yisrael had been informed, then he will sometimes be able to pilot these test-flights personally.

Having seen a perfect job vacancy in ‘The Engineering and Aeronautical Employment Journal’ Yisrael applied immediately. He was very excited about this particular job because it involved free flying lessons and would definitely involve a lot of flying afterwards. Yisrael was confident that with his qualifications and good interview skills he would have as good a chance as anyone else of being offered the position, and he eagerly awaited the letter informing him when the interview would be.

When the letter eventually arrived, Yisrael opened it hastily, with visions of the interview already passing through his mind; but his excitement was short-lived. As his eyes scanned the print they began to fill with tears. All Yisrael’s dreams were shattered in twenty seconds and with a similar number of words:

“…We thank you for your application, but regret that we shall not be offering you an interview.

Wishing you success, …”

Nobody could believe that Yisrael had not even been offered the courtesy of an interview. It was not as if there was a glaring gap in his credentials. He possessed all of the qualifications and experience that had been requested in the original advertisement and it made no sense that he should be turned down at this stage.

After an hour or so of feeling quite sorry for himself, Yisrael’s modesty began to get the better of him.

“Look,” he began to reason with his parents, “There must be hundreds, if not thousands of people out there with the same qualifications as I have, and one of them must just have beaten me to it this time,”

Nevertheless, his parents were not at all convinced that everything was as it should be. Yisrael’s father knew a lot about how firms normally deal with job applications, and was sure that his son had not been treated properly.

Yisrael’s parents decided to take the matter into their own hands. They wrote to the particular firm asking why Yisrael had not been offered an interview. From the reply they received it became quite clear to them that a serious error had been made:

” …Therefore, although we do not usually explain such decisions, we shall simply point out that your son’s poor eyesight made it impossible for us even to consider him for the post. Efforts are always being made to save unnecessary costs, and we will certainly deny an applicant an interview if it is obvious from the outset that he/she is not fit for the job…”

Yisrael’s parents knew that there was nothing at all wrong with their son’s eyesight, and they immediately began to demand a proper inquiry into the whole business. When the senior directors of the company were informed of what had happened, they themselves ordered an investigation, which was carried out immediately.

It was discovered that the whole mistake had come about as a result of a casual and inaccurate piece of gossip. When Yisrael’s application had arrived it had been opened by a clerk and passed to his manager to read. Handing the letter to his boss the clerk had made a comment similar to the following:

“This one hasn’t much of a chance – he nearly failed his driving test because of bad eyesight!”

Upon being asked for more information, the clerk had explained that he was a neighbour of Yisrael and that he was quite sure of his facts. The manager had decided there and then that money should not be spent processing an application which would eventually come to nothing.

The clerk was indeed a neighbour of Yisrael’s family, but this was not relevant as rarely was a word was ever exchanged between them; there had certainly been no discussions over the garden fence about Yisrael’s driving test. The neighbour had simply been walking by as Yisrael had stepped forward in order to read that registration plate, and had jumped to the conclusion that Yisrael’s sight was deficient.

Yisrael’s parents presented a letter from the driving examiner which confirmed once and for all that there had never been any concern about Yisrael’s eyesight. It had only been the hazy conditions which had made it difficult for him to see the number plate at a distance. Upon receipt of this letter the company was most embarrassed. There had been no reason at all to reject Yisrael’s application, and an interview was arranged immediately.

The interviewers were most impressed with Yisrael, and he received an offer in the post within a week. The manager who had rejected Yisrael’s application was given a serious warning and told never to make such a decision again by himself. The cleric was given strict instructions not to express any personal opinions about specific applications, in order that a person’s chances of success should never again be put at risk by a few careless, unnecessary words.

***

In Parashat Tazria we learn many laws relating to the affliction of Tsaraat. Our Rabbis teach us that this disease came about as a punishment for speaking Lashon Hara. Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), in his ‘Hilchot Tum’at Tsaraat’ (Laws Of The Impurity Of Tsoraat) writes (Chapter 16, Halacha 10):

“Tsaraat is a term used for many conditions, which are all different from each other. The whitening of a person’s skin is called Tsaraat, when hair falls from a person’s head or beard it is called Tsaraat, and a change in the appearance of a person’s clothes or house is also called Tsaraat. Such a change in the appearance of a person’s clothes or house, which, in both cases, the Torah will call Tsaraat, is not at all a natural happening. Rather, it is a sign and a wonder that would happen amongst the people of Israel in order to warn them away from Lashon Hora.

A person who spoke Lashon Hara would first notice changes in the walls of his house. If he did teshuvah (repented) the house would be cured. If he continued in his bad ways until all of the house was ruined, then the furniture in his house upon which he sat and lay down would also become affected. If he now did teshuvah, the furniture would be cured, but if he still continued in his bad ways until the furniture became completely spoilt, then his clothes would begin to change. If he did teshuvah at this point, his clothes would be cured, but if he still persisted in his wickedness until his clothes were beyond repair, Tsaraat would begin to appear on his flesh and he would be publicly separated from the community until he stopped engaging in evil speech, which is frivolous and careless gossip.

Regarding this there is a warning in the Torah which says;

“Remember what the L-rd your G-d did to Miriam on your way out of Egypt ” (Devarim 24; 8,9.)

Rambam explains that Miriam was immediately punished, with Tsaraat (Bemidbar 12, 1-15) after speaking improperly about her brother, Moshe Rabeinu. Rambam also points out that Miriam did not criticise Moshe in any way; rather, she spoke about him as if he were like any other prophet, when actually he was the greatest of all the prophets and the closest to Hashem. Even so, Miriam was punished immediately for such talk. How much more should normal people take great care to avoid improper speech?

How is all of this connected to our story? Ask yourself the following question: why should all of these punishments come to a person who has simply let a few careless words leave his mouth? It does not at first seem completely fair that someone who merely has a weakness for a little gossip should have to suffer such strange, unnatural sickness in his house, furniture, clothes and body.

Firstly, remember that Tsaraat normally begins as a warning sign to make the person realise what he is doing so that he should stop and repent. It is only when the sinner does not do teshuvah that the Tsaraat spreads, eventually becoming so bad that it is more like a punishment. However, this still does not answer our question – but, our story does!

What had led to Yisrael’s application being rejected? What had almost prevented Yisrael beginning the career of his dreams, towards which he had worked so hard? What had caused the worry and anxiety that Yisrael and his family suffered after receiving that letter which made no sense to them? All this had been caused by a few careless words, and since Lashon Hara can be so damaging, so can Tsaraat. A few words of idle gossip can lead to the most disastrous effects, which is why Hashem even bends the normal laws of nature in order to force a person to see the evil in his ways and do Teshuvah. Since Lashon Hara can cause very real damage, the warning and punishment of Tsaraat afflicts a person’s property and flesh in very real ways.

Here is one final point which should never be forgotten. It is forbidden to tell anything nasty about others. If the nasty tale is true then it is called Lashon Hara. If it is false, even partly, then it is called Motzi Shem Ra – the giving of a bad name, and it is a much greater aveirah (sin). There are many laws relating to the aveirah of Lashon Hara, but there is one excuse that people very often use to defend themselves: they say, “but it is true!” They must be told that if the statement is true then that is exactly what makes it Lashon Hara! (See ‘Guard Your Tongue’, Zelig Pliskin, p,29)

***

© J. Richards 2004

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