Ethics

For the week ending 24 May 2003 / 22 Iyyar 5763

Cross on the Green, Not in Between

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: As a "professional pedestrian" who must contend with a large number of traffic lights along the route I walk to and from work, there are always occasions when I face a red light although the street before me is completely free of oncoming cars. Is there anything wrong with ignoring the light and dashing across to save precious time?

Answer: This question, equally relevant to motorists, invites a takeoff on an old Ogden Nash verse about an epitaph for a driver and his rights:

Here lies the body of Jumpy Jimmy Dean
Who couldnt wait for the light to turn green
He felt right, dead right, as he dashed along
But hes just as dead as if he wouldve been wrong.

Laws for public safety are intended not only for the individual situation but also as methods of educating people to exercise caution for their protection and the protection of others. When one develops a respect for the warning of a red light, even when he sees no reason for it at the moment, he is less likely to take the risk of crossing when he thinks he can beat the oncoming car and ends up instead like the "hero" of our verse. The large number of pedestrian deaths each year as a result of jaywalking or crossing against the light tragically testifies to how many times a gamble to save a little time ends up with an irreplaceable loss.

The Torah exhorts every person to be extremely careful in guarding the life entrusted to him by his Creator. Just as in regard to religious law each performance of a Divine command develops a person spiritually, so too does each exercise of patience and restraint in waiting for the light to change develop in him a greater regard for life.

Add to this the bad example you would show for those watching you, people younger or less careful than you, who will extend your defiant attitude to truly dangerous situations. The conclusion must be "Cross on the green, not in between".

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