By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
It has happened to all of us at some time or another that we actualize the old adage of “no good deed goes unpunished.” It could be anything from getting a ticket while running an errand for a friend to inviting a guest into your home who mistook the invite for dinner as an invitation to move in for the summer. That one phone call you make on a neighbor’s behalf just to get a creditor off of his back winds up in full-fledged litigation, consuming hours, months, and yes, even years of your life, which you can’t charge your friend for, because, thinking it was only going to be one phone call, you stupidly proclaimed, “Don’t worry, Billy, this one’s on me.”
And then there is the other end of the spectrum, where you do a favor for a stranger, and the next thing you know, you are the beneficiary of unexpected good. It is a most propitious circumstance in which to find oneself at this time of year as we approach Rosh Hashanah—when we ask that the good deeds we might have done this past year open the floodgates of all that is good, that we benefit from the good we bestowed on others, and that we benefit from simply living a life consistent with what we have been instructed is proper and wholesome.
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He is a brilliant rabbi down there, below the Mason-Dixon Line in Baltimore, making quite a name for himself not only as an accomplished speaker, but as a posek, or adjudicator of Jewish law.
Fortunately for the coffers of the City of Baltimore, his driving record is not as pristine. So he finds himself in traffic court a few times a year, and last week was one of those times. He was not alone. It seems as if Officer Watson had parked his cruiser and radar gun alongside a particular street in the Jewish side of town and pulled over some 30 “speedsters.” The rabbi arrived for his hearing with his attorney, 15 minutes before the gavel was to go down.
It was then that the rabbi noticed a kollel fellow sitting in the pews with photos in his hand. The rabbi introduced himself to the graduate yeshiva student and inquired as to the nature of the photos in the man’s possession. It turns out that the two of them had been stopped at the same location, minutes apart. The kollel student had pictures of the speed limit sign obscured by tree branches.
The kollel fellow offered the rabbi use of the photos to serve as a defense. The rabbi countered by asking the kollel fellow if he had an attorney. The kollel fellow responded that he could not afford one and was prepared to proceed solo.
The rabbi made the following offer. “If you are kind enough to share your photos with me I will pay my attorney extra to defend you as well.” The kollel man politely accepted but went one step further. Seeing that he had now been the recipient of a favor from the rabbi, he extended his benevolence to everyone else in the courtroom who had been stopped and ticketed for speeding at the same location. All of them were going to utilize the defense that the foliage concealed the speed-limit sign in the area and all those ticketed should be given a pass.
One by one, like sheep before the shepherd, the parade continued, each offering the pictures as evidence. Each time, the judge rapped his gavel on the wooden desk and proclaimed “guilty.”
The judge remarked that even if he accepted the pictures as proof that the speed limit sign was concealed, that did not give license to one and all to speed. “What then would be the limit?” quipped the judge. “With an obscured sign, do you believe one could simply choose his desired speed limit?”
“Besides,” added the judge, “you took a road test years ago and the city and county speed limit is printed in that manual that you perused years ago and should have committed to memory.”
“Guilty, guilty, guilty” was the chorus sung in Baltimore that morning as Watson was running a perfect score.
Next to appear before his honor was none other than our benevolent picture-sharer. “What’s your defense?” intoned the judge. The fellow’s lawyer said, “Well, Your Honor, we were going to use the obscured sign as a defense but we see Your Honor already rejected that argument.” The lawyer began to fumble for another theory when the judge interrupted and turned to the officer. “You seem lost,” said the judge to the officer. “What seems to be the problem?”
“It’s the darndest thing.” replied the officer. “I have everyone’s paperwork here, all 30 tickets, and I could swear I had this defendant’s paperwork here a minute ago, but now I can’t seem to find it.”
“In that case,” said the judge, “case dismissed.” Not looking to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the kollel fellow politely thanked the judge, his attorney, and the rabbi (for paying for his attorney).
The next and last case scheduled for that morning was the rabbi’s. Turning to the officer, the judge asked, “Officer, do you have the rabbi’s paperwork or did you misplace that as well?”
“Yes, I have the paperwork,” replied the officer, chomping at the bit, ready to begin another string of convictions.
“Good morning, Rabbi. I haven’t seen you here in a while. How are you?” asked the judge.
“Quite well,” responded the rabbi.
“What’s your defense?” inquired the judge.
The rabbi, ever respectful, answered, “Well, I was going to use the picture defense, but I see Your Honor has previously rejected that defense. I was then hoping that perhaps kind Officer Watson had misplaced my paperwork as well, but I see that was not the case. I was then going to argue that this is my first time here but Your Honor and I both know that’s not true.”
The judge said, “Hold on a minute, Rabbi.” Turning to the rabbi’s attorney, he asked, “Where was the fine rabbi coming from?”
“From the yeshiva,” answered the attorney.
“And where was the rabbi going to?” asked the judge.
“On his way to do a good deed, Your Honor, on his way to a funeral,” responded the attorney.
“I get the picture,” said the judge. With a rap of the gavel came the pronouncement all of us wish to hear this time of year: “Not guilty!” The judge exclaimed, “Case dismissed.”
Yes, it’s true that sometimes sharing and caring does not yield the results we hope for. And sometimes sharing and caring even hurts. But more often than not, going the extra mile (observing the speed limit, of course) pays off in ways we could never have imagined. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.