A Smoking Cigarette

You’ve probably noticed that my titles are often known phrases or plays on words. Part of it is to pique your interest, and part of it is a way for me to remember what inspired me to write something. I can’t always jot down what I think of immediately. Sometimes it’s Shabbos (Shabbat), and sometimes, like in this case, I am driving when I see something to talk about.

Well, I wasn’t ACTUALLY driving at the moment. In actual fact, I was stopped at a red light, behind several other cars. The driver of the car in front of me rolled down his window and tossed a lit, but mostly burned, cigarette out the window. I saw it roll a bit next to his car, and then sit there emitting smoke, until such time that another car would ride over it, it would rain, or it would just burn out by itself.

It got me thinking. He was done with his cigarette. Whether it’s right for him to be smoking in the first place is a different question, one that I won’t deal with right now because nobody’s asked me for my opinion. I’m not one to judge people for things they can’t control, though when I was pulling up to shul (synagogue) and saw a fellow smoking outside, and he leisurely puffed away, finally coming inside for Barchu (the beginning of the Shema blessings), I had to wonder at his choice. But that’s all for another time – maybe.

Polluting the World…

What struck me at that moment was that he was done with his cigarette, so he tossed it outside. It was still smoking, emitting pollution into the atmosphere. True, one little cigarette in the giant atmosphere may not make a huge difference, or even a noticeable one, but he was still polluting the world for others. Did he think about that fact? Did he care? Did he just not want to put out the cigarette in his car?

It’s possible he had no ashtray in his car, though, as a smoker, wouldn’t that be something you would have? But assuming he didn’t, and he had no place to put it out, did he even consider how he might be affecting others?

…In More Ways Than One

It made me wonder what I might be careless about. Am I perhaps polluting the world somehow without noticing? If you think about it, there are so many words we throw out carelessly, as if it’s nothing. I was meeting with someone and he used a few words I would not have chosen to use. After a few times, I said, “I don’t generally use those words.” I explained how when I was in middle school, it was cool to use curse words and I fell into the bad habit of using them. One day I realized that nivul peh, defilement of the mouth, was not something I wanted to be involved in. I became much more aware and sensitive to these words. Even now, decades later, I cringe when I hear people using them.

I was once in an airport and struck up a conversation with a fellow in full religious regalia (I leave it to your own imagination.) As we were speaking, he uttered one of those words which fall in the category of vulgarity, but are more “accepted” in society. I immediately lost a huge amount of respect for him. How do you look like this, but speak like that? But, I’m not judging because I don’t know his whole story. I do, however, know that I need to be careful for myself.

Sometimes it’s a negative comment about someone else that we carelessly toss out. Maybe it’s cynicism, or a degradation of someone or something holy. We aren’t so bothered by it ourselves, so we don’t see how detrimental it might be to others.

Shut the Ringer!

How about the people who go into a shul with their cellphones but don’t turn off the ringers? I was davening mincha (the afternoon prayer) one day when a man’s phone loudly DINGGggged. I immediately pulled out my phone to make sure the ringer was off (it was) but guess who didn’t? The fellow whose phone it was. How do I know? Because a moment later, there was another DINGGgggg. I didn’t hear another so maybe he shut it the second time, but could he have been more thoughtful? Perhaps.

Of course, maybe he simply is technologically-challenged and doesn’t know how to lower the volume, but then maybe he could find another option when he’s going to shul. My point isn’t to call out the people I see acting selfishly. Rather, it’s to bring the concept of affecting others unwittingly, and spiritually polluting the world, to the attention of people who will find this insight helpful for their own growth and behavior. That’s how I looked at it when I saw his “smoking gun” tossed out of the car: as a window to my own mind.  I figure that even if I can’t be perfect all the time, making the effort is worth a shot.

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

Rabbi Gewirtz (Operation Inspiration) welcomes comments and feedback. Write to him at info@JewishSpeechWriter.com to share your thoughts. You never know when you may be the lamp that enlightens someone else.

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