The difference of just two words can make all the difference. I learned that today.
I’m the college professor of English, journalism, and public speaking for Yeshiva at IDT, a yeshiva program for bochurim who learn Gemara in the Beis Midrash in the morning, and earn a bachelor’s degree in the afternoon. I travel two days a week from my home in Highland Park to the IDT building in Newark, NJ, which is a 90-minute journey each way.
Since I don’t have a parking pass, and you have to wait till someone dies to get one (or you have a very good friend you can borrow one from), I park my car about a half-mile away from the station where it’s legal to park, and walk to the station, toting my overstuffed briefcase and dreaming of parking passes the whole way.
My good friend, Vicky Krief, works for IDT. She is the fortunate holder of the coveted parking pass, so she is able to park in the train station. If I’m lucky enough to be on the same train as her coming home from classes (which happens often), she gives me a lift to my parked car, saving me the walk when it’s cold, dark, and my feet hurt from teaching all afternoon.
Earlier today, Vicky asked me if I would be at work, and I replied that I would be, and I hoped to see her on the train, unless I caught the one before, which sometimes happens. She replied that I should wait for her because she had THE CAR. I figured that from her point of view, it was worth delaying my departure a few minutes so that I’d have the advantage of her giving me a lift from the train station.
At the end of my class period I got an email from Vicky asking if I was leaving and I replied ‘yes’, and shut down my computer and packed up to go. I walked outside and waited in the usual spot for the Light Rail that shuttles me to the Newark Train station. No Vicky, as I was expecting. I boarded the train, and then my cell phone rang. It was Vicky asking me where I was. “On the train, where are you?” I replied. She answered, “I’m waiting for you! I told you I have THE CAR. I’m in the parking lot!”
Oh, she had the car. At IDT. It never occurred to me that this is what she meant. Creature of habit, I just presumed it was the usual ‘I have the car in the train parking lot.’ Likewise, it didn’t dawn on Vicky that she had to spell it out anymore than telling me that she had the car. Wasn’t it clear to me what “I have the car” means?
As I’m on the train, Vicky is texting me over and over again, first with apologies for the miscommunication, and then with general chattiness and I’m getting really worried. I stop texting her back because I don’t want to encourage this dangerous habit, as I visualize her negotiating the highway with her blackberry on her lap, poking at the keyboard while she drives. My absence from texting only serves to fuel Vicky’s concern further that she has upset me by leaving me on the train and not giving me the opportunity for a ride home. She continues texting. Finally I spell it out. “Don’t text me while driving. It’s okay. I’m fine with the train.”
To which she texts back: “I’m not driving. Nachum ( another friend of ours who also works for IDT who understood he was driving home with Vicky) was actually driving her car home while she was texting me. I felt much better and we chatted by text all the way home, her in the car, and me in the train. I got out of the train and began my long walk to my car, and a few blocks away, there were Nachum and Vicky waiting for me in her car – so that she could give me a lift to my car from the train station, per usual. Now, that’s a really good friend.
And so, today it struck me in a visceral way why Hashem in all His wisdom, gave us the oral law. “When I instructed you to bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be totafos between your eyes, let me tell you what I really meant by that. . .
Vicky and I only had the written communication; we needed the oral as well. ‘I have THE CAR.’ What exactly does that mean?