Ethics

For the week ending 31 March 2007 / 12 Nisan 5767

Driver's Dilemma

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: As a driver of a public transportation bus I am faced with a dilemma. During busy hours my bus rapidly fills up to the point where even standing room hardly exists. As I approach the next stop where more people are waiting I have a conflict as to whether I should pass them by to spare my present passengers further inconvenience, or open my doors to those who have been waiting so anxiously for their bus to arrive. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: Your sensitivity to the needs of your passengers is certainly commendable.

The first thing to do is to make sure that there is really no more comfortable standing room by announcing to your present passengers that unless they move to empty places in the back of the bus they will be depriving those at the next stop from the opportunity to board the bus.

If you are convinced that there really is no more room and that taking on more passengers will literally turn your bus into a human sardine can, you have no choice but to bypass those waiting at the next stop. This situation may roughly be compared to the Talmudic dilemma of the two people walking in the desert and threatened with death from thirst. One of them has a canteen of water that will sustain him until he reaches civilization. If he shares his water with the other, both will live a bit longer but both will surely die before reaching their destination. The ruling of Rabbi Akiva is that since the Torah commands, "Your brother shall live along with you", the indication is that your life comes first and that therefore there is no obligation to share your water at the expense of your life.

The passengers who have acquired a place on your bus by paying their fare have no responsibility to discomfort themselves for the sake of those waiting, and you do have a responsibility to serve those passengers in reasonable fashion.

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