“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right”
Or in Jewish:
“The hidden things belong to the Lord, our Gd, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:28)
There is a deep reminder in this week’s parsha about how hidden things belong to Gd, and we can only work with what is reavealed to us in this world.
But sometimes, I feel that we are given a glimpse into deeper things. But I wasn’t expecting to be blown away in traffic school!
In the spirit of Elul and reflecting on our year, I accrued a fair number of points for a driving infraction that landed me in traffic school for a defensive driving class. Without getting into why it was unfair that I was blamed for the incident (thank Gd, no accident), I want to start with the opening moments of traffic school.
Imagine the nearly impossible educational set up: 30 adults. Ages from 25-75. Arabs, Charedim, Russians, Americans. No.One.Wants.To.Be.There.
And the teacher is stuck with this random group for three nights of 4 hours each! Can you imagine being strict and responsible about attendance for adults? Telling them to put their cell phones away (and catching them using them anyway like children!) How would you assert your authority, and also gain the trust of the students to come on this journey with you? You are the representative of the organization that gave them a big fine, may have taken away their license and is telling them that they need to improve their driving.
Not exactly the place we would expect to find a brilliant teacher!
Uri is an incredible combination of love, humor, honesty, and profound care for both his students and the material. He is a legend.
The first thing he does is make his students feel welcome. He bounces from Hebrew to Arabic to Yiddish to English, making sure that each student has a ‘place’ in his classroom. The second thing he does is speaks with everyone with deep respect–he doesn’t look at his students as criminals or people that have done something terrible.
“At least for the 12 hours that we are together, none of you will be in an accident.”
Uri reminds us of the incredible responsibility and risk that each of us take every time we get on the road.
Uri is not a tall man, but his loud voice and hefty girth demand your attention. He is dressed sharply, a button-down shirt and a tie, and his grey hair is well kept. Every so often, he adjusts his trousers under his stomach. After setting up his laptop and video projetor, he takes out his big thermos, pours a cup of something, and says the traditional blessing outloud: Blessed are you Lord, Ruler of All, that everything came to be according to His word.
His care for each of us, and for everyone else overflows as he begs us to drive more aware. More alert. More careful. Make good decisions, and always be on the lookout for someone that does the opposite. We all want to get home alive.
Hours of joking, teaching, caring and inspiring went by very quickly, but the most inspiring thing was what Uri shared with us in the last moments of the last class, just before the exam.
After blessing us with a healthy and productive new year, he says that he wants to share his personal story (of course we have all become intrigued by this character that we have spent all this time with). What is it? I assumed that perhaps he lost a child or loved one to an accident, Gd forbid, and that is what motivates Uri to teach these classes with such passion and commitment. What could it be.
Uri stands before us about to make a confession:
“8 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer.
The doctors gave me two weeks to live.
I don’t have a stomach, liver or kidneys anymore.
I am covered with bags from my chest to my shoes.
You may have noticed that I adjust my trousers every so often, and that I also sometimes raise my voice and gesticulate with my hands.
Every 15 minutes, the belt that I am wearing sends me an injection of chemotherapy, and it hurts. That’s why I raise my voice.
The doctors gave me two weeks.
I said to the Source of All Life: I’m not finished here in this world yet. Give me time.
Let me use my strengths to teach Your children to be more careful with the most precious thing they have: life.
You, my students, are what give me the strength and the courage to continue.”
Uri is on borrowed time.
But he is on a mission from Gd.
He is doing holy work, and that’s what I told him at the end of the exam.
Friends, I’m begging us all to learn from Uri to take better care of ourselves and each on the roads.
Friends, I’m begging us all to learn from Uri how precious life can be, and to not take a single moment for granted.
Friends, I’m begging us to learn from Uri what it means to be given the gift of delivering a message. We all have our unique voice to bring to the world, and that is our role here.
And let’s keep carrying each other with love and joy!
Blessings for a sweet and healthy new year for Uri and for all of us!