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Understanding Limitations

open roadThree months ago, my husband and I moved to the Philadelphia suburbs from the city. He was raised in the suburbs, and among the many reasons he is so happy with our new home is the fact that this is his home turf. He knows his way around. I, on the other hand, can say with absolute certainty that I have never driven down the two roads that sandwich our development. I have frequented the mall that is two miles away, and twenty years ago, I would drive a half mile from the mall in the other direction on the way to my daughter’s horseback riding lessons, but I am completely surprised that the mall and the stables are near each other.

And so, I have made a new best friend—the voice of the woman on my google maps app. I may spend more time listening to her than anyone else in my life. She allows me to relax and engage in some contemplative reflections while I’m driving because I no longer have to worry about navigating my way around. I call her Tzuri—“Rock” in Hebrew, as in “The Lord is my rock and my redeemer.”

But Tzuri does more for me than allaying my fear of getting lost. She reinforces insights about the nature of reality that I have discerned over and over again but find it difficult to recall in moments of anxiety. One morning last month, I had an 8:30 meeting with a colleague. My husband called down while I was eating breakfast and asked me to take a pair of pants out of the dryer and bring it up to him. I did so, and then I proceeded back down to fold all of the laundry. Oblivious of the time, I then unloaded and loaded the dishwasher. By the time I turned the ignition key in my Camry, it was 8:15. On the best of days, the ride to work takes seventeen minutes. On that morning, Tzuri recommended an alternate route that, she said, would take 22 minutes. I have learned to trust in her omniscience. There must have been a backup on the most direct route.

Thus, according to Tzuri’s calculations, based on real-time traffic, I would be at least seven minutes late to my meeting. I was immediately stressed and tried to drive a little bit faster in order to shave a minute or two off of my arrival time. I accelerated through one yellow light, only to be slowed immediately by heavy traffic. After five minutes, it hit me: there was nothing I could do. Tzuri had already calculated all the back ups. No matter what I did, this trip was going to take 22 minutes. I had no ability to alter this outcome, given that I had folded the laundry and emptied the dishwasher.

I thought about what I could control. I could text my colleague and let her know that I would be at least seven minutes late, so that she would not wonder whether I had forgotten our meeting or worry about whether something had happened to me en route. I texted her and allowed myself to relax.

As I drove for the next fifteen minutes, it struck me that this experience was similar to many mini-dramas that I go through every week, maybe every day. I have a deadline to submit an article that I realize I’m not going to meet. I forget a cousin’s birthday. Based on decisions I have made, based upon the nature of the universe, and based upon circumstances beyond my control, I have limits. Can you believe it? I myself require repeated reminders: Do the best you can, Jacob, and then let it go. Embrace yourself as human, and acknowledge that though you don’t know the real-time calculations of where you will end up and how long it will take to get there, there is an app that can forecast the range of possibilities.

Rabbi Jacob Staub is Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA, where he directs the program in Jewish Spiritual Direction.

This content was originally published on the website of The First Day, at
Image: “The road to Menindee” by dfinnecy via Flickr.

Topics: Spirituality
Type: Essay

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