In 2021, more people migrated out of New York State than any other state in the union. And it was not all people leaving Flatbush for Tom’s River to be closer to the grandchildren and have more lawn. Many people fled the oppressive COVID policies, others sought out locales with more favorable tax treatment for high-net-worth individuals, and many found the rapid rise in crime and lawlessness to be unpalatable. On July 19, 2022 the New York Post cover detailed how major crimes were up a whopping 37% year over year. But despite the exodus of people from NY state and more specifically Manhattan, there are still plenty of people who want to call it home. Rising rents tell that story, with the average cost of renting an apartment in Manhattan creeping above $5,000 a month for the first time in June.
Evidently, New York City, despite its many warts, bruises, and pockmarks is still attractive to many people. It boasts the world’s number one financial center in Lower Manhattan, a thriving arts and museum world, proximity to nine professional sports teams, beautiful public parks, one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the US. It also has enough restaurants in Manhattan alone that you could eat at a different restaurant every day for twelve years without ever doubling up! So, while many are fleeing the city, others are still flocking to the it, and being that the island of Manhattan doesn’t tend to grow, there is a lot of congestion in the city.
People congestion is taken care of by building higher and taller, and indeed NYC has more skyscrapers than any other city in the US by far. The 257 skyscrapers in NYC is more than double the next concentration which is Chicago’s 119. But all those people in all those buildings need lots of stuff, and almost all of that stuff needs to enter the city via trucks, and there have not been any new significant roadways built in decades. Parking is impossible, loading and unloading is a nightmare. This is a city where a single parking space can cost over $100,000 to buy or over $1000 a month to rent. Trying to park a car is hard enough, trying to park a 30-foot delivery truck is close to impossible. The parking crisis is so bad that a study reported by Freakonomics reported that a quarter of truck drivers they interviewed waiting at red lights in Manhattan were only on that street while circling and looking for parking!
Most trucks get around this problem by double parking. This not only blocks other cars in, it also creates a traffic backup, as now the crowded Manhattan street has one less available lane. There is an interesting legal compromise, it’s called idling. The driver doesn’t park his truck and turn off the engine, instead he leaves the engine running, runs around to the back, unloads his goods, hops back in the truck and continues on his merry way. The city understands the predicament the truck drivers face, and recognizes that they need the goods on the trucks to keep the flow of commerce, so they officially allow a truck a three minute “grace period” to idle, make their delivery and move on.
Enforcing that grace period is not simple. As it is the city is facing a crisis level shortage in police officers. Just since the beginning of this year 1,596 officers have quit or retired, a 40% increase from previous years. Combine the shortage of officers with the 37% increase in major crimes and the city can’t afford to dedicate officers to ticketing trucks for idling four minutes, they need them to stop grand larceny, assaults with a deadly weapon, and other more severe crimes. So what is the city supposed to do?
The city actually came up with a fascinating solution back in 2018; allow citizens to report trucks that have idled for too long, and then give a portion of the ticket proceeds to the citizens. This has given some elderly residents who are living on a fixed budget (that is buying them less and less due to rampant inflation) the ability to supplement their income, and it gives the city a way to stop the over-idling that is rampant and clogs up city streets! In order to prove that the truck has idled too long, citizens need to make a time and date stamped video that shows the truck continuously idling, and that video needs to show the license plate of the truck. A first-time offender truck will be fined $350, and it goes up for repeat offenses, and the citizen reporter get 25% of the fine, which comes out to $87.50!
For a retired person who doesn’t need to be at work during the day, there is a bundle of money to be made! There are not a lot of citizen reporters, 85% of the reports come from about 20 individuals who call themselves “Idling Warriors,” but those dedicated warriors make a lot of dough! Paul Slapikas, an 81-year-old retiree made over $64,000 in 2021 just by paying attention on his daily walks!
But it’s not that simple. The truck drivers don’t see these guys as Idling Warriors, they see them as snitches who are costing them thousands of dollars, and there’s an old saying in NY, “snitches get stiches.” Many of the Idling Warriors have told the New York Times that they’ve been threatened, beaten up, or had their phones stolen by irate drivers. One man even described being knocked to the ground and held down by a team of delivery drivers!
When there’s a will, there’s a way. The newest tactic employed by the warriors is to dress up like a tourist. Slapikas will dress “like a lost tourist, a camera dangling around his neck and a map sticking out of his jacket pocket. He appeared to be deep in conversation on an old flip-phone — big hand gestures, a peek at a watch, a crane of the neck like he’s looking for a friend.” But the camera dangling around his neck is not the recording device, the cell phone in his shirt pocket with just the cameras on the back sticking out is doing the recording. So while looking like a lost tourist, he records the truck for three minutes, sends it in and hopefully collects his $87.50. The warriors are back in business and still on patrol.
This is not a simple problem. Everyone can agree without reservation that threatening, hitting or stealing from Idling Warriors is 100% wrong, and should be prosecuted. And 99% of people living in NYC find the trucks and their double parking or idling to be an incredible nuisance. On the other hand the drivers are in a really tough predicament as well! The borough of Manhattan has an estimated population of 1,630,000 people living in just 23 square miles. That gives it a population density of 70,826 people per square mile, making it the most dense county in the US and one of the most densely populated places on earth! That doesn’t include tourists or people who work in Manhattan. On the typical weekday, commuters and tourists push the Manhattan population to more that 3.9 million, or more than 170,000 people per square mile!
All those people want to be able to buy food from supermarkets, get their air conditioning fixed, get deliveries from Amazon, and want access to millions of tons of goods. According to a report by the NYC Department of Transportation in 2019, one million tons of goods enter, leave, or pass through NYC each day, and 89% of them are carried by trucks! There are 125,621 trucks crossings into Manhattan every day. Everyone wants the goods brought into the city, but no one wants the trucks clogging the streets.
The truck drivers are not making anywhere near the salaries of the people on Wall Street to whom they deliver everything from tuna sandwiches to designer suits. They don’t make anywhere near the salaries of the people eating in the 68 Michelin starred restaurants in NYC, but they do need to deliver all the steaks, seafood, fresh produce, linens and glassware used in those restaurants. On top of that, they must haul things all day in the heat of summer or freezing cold of winter, from the trucks into loading docks, all while under great pressure from their dispatchers to get to the next delivery! When the truck gets parking tickets, the trucking companies pass them on to the truckers, but they are not given the time they need to find the precious few spots in Manhattan, and even if they find an open spot, it can be blocks away from the delivery! On top of that, they now have citizen warriors trying to catch them the minute they idle for over three minutes costing them more than a day’s wages each time!
When we first look at the situation, we tend to feel like the truck drivers are the villains, clogging the roads, leaving their trucks idling loudly all over the place, making city dwellers lives difficult and miserable. But if you look at the situation from a truck driver’s perspective for a few moments, you see an entirely different world.
In Ethics of Our Fathers (2:4) we learn, “Hillel says: Don’t judge your friend until you reach his place.” It is so easy for us to pass judgment on others because we look at the world through “Me Colored Lenses.” To me, trucks are annoying. To me, they are loud and obnoxious. To me sitting in traffic on a clogged street in Manhattan where I see trucks taking up an extra lane, they are absolute villains. The only color playing out in my head is the Me color. The poor trucker, who works twelve hour days rushing from place to place, barely making enough to support his family, unloading in the heat, having cars cut him off all the time, dispatchers yelling at him because he’s late, and the people he serves curse him out for double parking? There is an entirely different movie playing in his head.
We become better human being when we follow Hillel’s advice. For starters, we recognize that judging other people in general is not a great practice, because we are not standing in other people’s places. And when we do find ourselves judging others, perhaps even getting angry at them, let’s take that step back, and say, “I know what movie is playing in my head. What movie is playing in theirs?” Suddenly the world starts becoming a much more colorful place, a more complex and nuanced place, and a more peaceful place!
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s parsha opens with G-d rewarding Pinchas. “Therefore say: Behold I have given him my covenant of peace.” (Numbers 25:12) Why does Pinchas get a covenant of peace specifically in reward for this act? (I probably would have just asked for a Corvette! No, no. That’s not going to look good. I probably would have asked for a Sefer Torah!) This question is strengthened by the fact that the Torah introduces his reward with “Therefore,” as if the reward is directly linked to the act. What is the link between the two?
There is much debate about how one defines him or her self. Some say, “You are what you wear.” Now, I know this is going to be controversial, but I believe that to a certain degree that is true. We do choose our clothing, and often we elect to wear certain clothing because we want to send a message of how we see ourselves in the hope that others will begin to see us in that way as well. Other people will tell you, “You are what you eat.” There is a little less truth to that statement, because if it were true I would be half wheat and half cow hooves (I just had a hot dog in a bun).
In Judaism we believe that you are what you do. By nature, we may be languid, lazy, lackluster, languorous, and lethargic, but if we energize ourselves and become active people, then we have changed who we are and we are now vigorous, vibrant and vivacious people brimming with vim and vitality. This is due to our actions entering our psyche, and transforming our very essence.
Using this line of reasoning, Pinchas, who had just committed a violent act, would become a more violent and aggressive person, no matter how noble his intentions. But G-d would never allow a negative result to be the outcome of a virtuous act,; therefore, G-d gave him a special covenant of peace to protect him from any character defects he may have acquired through his violent action.
This idea is very empowering, as it allows us out of any box we may have placed ourselves in. So often, we live our lives believing that we are selfish, lazy, or disorderly. But we learn from here that all we have to do is to act selflessly, energetically, and in an orderly fashion and we will become different people! Most of you are probably thinking, “Sure, easier said than done!” but that is just the lazy part of you speaking. Instead, we must simply follow the Pinchas strategy, and get up and do, because that is what changes us.
This week begins with the reward given to Pinchas for his glorification of G-d by eradicating one of the leaders of the tribe of Shimon who was publicly committing adultery with a princess from Midian. The Midianite people had sent their daughters to seduce the Jews. At the moment of their highest vulnerability, the women would entice the Jewish men to serve the Midianite Gods. Pinchas, with his quick action, brought the people back to their senses. The reward Pinchas received was the ability to join the ranks of the Kohanim, the people whose entire raison d’etre is to bring people closer to G-d by cleansing them of the negative effects of their sins. After this incident, the Jews went to war with the Midianites, in retribution for the spiritual war the Midianites waged against the Jews.
As you probably recall, in the beginning of the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers), there was a major census taken of all the Jews. That was at the beginning of the Jews’ forty years in the desert. Now, at the end of their 40 year journey, G-d commands Moshe to take another census. Why was another census necessary? A number of 585reasons are given. First, just as a shepherd counts his sheep after a wolf attacks, so too, G-d, after forty years and a number of punitive plagues, counts the Jews to see how many remain. In addition, just as Moshe counted the people at the beginning of his leadership, now that his watch is about to end, he counts them again before returning his flock to their master.
Another purpose of the census was to count the people by family, as this would determine their portions of land when they entered Israel. At this point, the daughters of Tzelafchad came before Moshe to make a request. They were from a family with only women, five of them to be exact. Their father had died, and they were concerned that with no men to represent them, their family would get no portion in Israel. Moshe, after a quick consultation with G-d, told them not to worry, as they would get a portion of the Land of Israel in lieu of their father.
(Here is an interesting note: 2000 years ago, Jews were the most liberal nation in the world in regards to women’s rights. They gave women land, offered them many forms of protection in the case of divorce or death of a spouse, and gave them equal protection under law. Today, people look at Orthodoxy and claim that it represses women. It is important to try to understand the Orthodox position before judging them, in light of their record of being the foremost champion of women’s rights for thousands of years.) Once dealing with laws of inheritance, the Torah here summarizes the Jewish laws of bequest and inheritance.
The Torah, now close to wrapping up the narrative of the Jews’ desert experience, tells of G-d informing Moshe that he will die imminently and he therefore has to pass the mantle of leadership onto his principal pupil, Joshua. The Parsha then concludes with a list of the sacrifices brought on all the various festivals. That’s all, Folks!
Quote of the Week: Time is what we want most, but we all use worst. – William Penn
Random Fact of the Week: “Dreamt” is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt”.
Funny Line of the Week: Money talks, but all mine ever says is “goodbye.”
Have a Noteworthy Shabbos,
R” Leiby Burnham