Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.’” (Lev. 23:23-25)
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (Rom. 7:19)
A couple months ago, I was riding the E train home from capoeira around 10 PM. A family got on at 34th Street, Penn Station – a mother and several daughters, clearly visitors, with large suitcases. They spoke excitedly in a language I didn’t recognize – Russian perhaps? – and I wondered if it was their first time in the city.
The train stopped at 7th Avenue. There was some confusion, a hurried consultation of the subway map, and a frantic rush for the door… but the baggage made it hard to maneuver. Mom and two of the daughters made it off the train, but the doors closed before the third girl, apparently the youngest, could exit. They yelled and banged on the subway, but no luck – the train pulled out of the station, and the girl was visibly distressed as she watched her family fade into the distance.
Seeing what had happened, a few men began giving her directions in the 90 seconds before the train reached the next station. “It’s ok,” they said – “Just get off at the next stop and catch the train back the other way. The E train, you understand? Take it back one stop. When you leave the train, go around to the other side, and catch the downtown E.”
She said she understood, but still looked near tears. Someone asked how old she was. 12. As the train screeched to a halt and the doors opened at 5th Ave., the New Yorkers shouted last-minute instructions – “Get off here! Go up the stairs and around! Catch the E train!” – and she was gone. “Ah, she’ll be fine,” the men said to each other.
A few stops later it hit me – Why the hell didn’t I get off and go with her? She was a 12-year-old girl who had gotten separated from her family in a foreign city. I was a female native who knew the language and the subway system. It probably would have cost me 15 minutes of my time, and I had no pressing commitment to attend to at home, anyhow. The chance for a mitzvah had practically jumped up and slapped me in the face, and I chose to sit there and watch like a mindless spectator.
I spent the rest of the train ride doing the only thing I could – praying for her to be safely reunited with her family.
This Rosh HaShanah, may I be forgiven not only for the evil I have done, but also for the good I have left undone.