In the UK, social etiquette is strictly enforced (or at least, it used to be a decade ago…) and lines were strictly policed and questions of primogeniture were obvious and clear. First come, first served. Last come, last served.
But it’s not like that in Israel.
In Israel, the line splits firmly into two sections: people with reasonably good middot and respect for their fellow human beings, and people who don’t. And don’t think you can tell from the way people are dressed which camp they belong to, because you can’t.
Take today’s ‘queue experience’ as I stood in the sweltering Jerusalem heat for an hour and half trying to buy text books for my kids. On the one hand, there was the ‘hidden tzaddik’ looking bloke with long tzitzit dangling down to his knees, long beard, long payot and a very quiet, peaceful demeanor.
He took out his pocket chumash, and started reviewing the parsha of the week leaned up against the wall, acting so calm you’d really think he was in the middle of the local beit midrash. He didn’t jostle, he didn’t bother anyone, he just stood there patiently - and then some other woman took pity on him, grabbed his shopping list and started hustling on his behalf.
Then there was the ‘frum’ woman in electric green who marched smartly up to the middle of the queue, and clearly just started pushing her way in, apparently oblivious to all the dirty looks I was throwing her way.
Dear reader, I don’t push in. But I also can’t just accept the reality of the queue with the same equanimity of the hidden Tzaddik who was learning his chumash, so standing in line is an enormous test of my middot.
I know Rebbe Nachman tells us to keep shtum, and to not have a go at anyone or start a fight with anyone, so I don’t actually say anything. I just stand there secretly boiling inside, as these ‘women in green’ brazenly push their way to the front of queue and pretend that there weren’t 10 people waiting patiently ahead of them.
So then, I try to find justifications for their behavior, and I find this really is helping me to stop feeling quite so angry at them.
“Maybe,” I think to myself, “they have 28 children at home, and they haven’t made supper yet. They need to start cooking already, and they’re too stressed to waste time in the queue…”
“Maybe, their husband is waiting for them in the car somewhere going a bit crazy, and they know they’re going to have a huge fight if they don’t get back ASAP.”
“Maybe, this is their first outing from the mental asylum, and they haven’t yet worked out the social niceties involved in standing in a line the way you’re meant to…”
All these things help to calm me down a bit, until God finally has mercy and I find myself within spitting distance of the front of the line and personal redemption. Strange to say, the sense of freedom I feel when I’m finally out of that queue is probably at least a little bit of how it’ll feel when we get the geula - the nightmare’s over, and I no longer have to stand in the beating sun, dehydrating away while another ‘woman in green’ runs me over with her stroller.
Ah, Elul. That month of God shining another bright light on all our bad middot, and encouraging us to knuckle down and fix them ahead of Rosh Hashana.
If it wasn’t the queue for textbooks, it would be Rami Levi, or the bank, or queuing up at passport control, or something. Because God has to show me that I still have a whole lot of work to do before Rosh Hashana 5778 rolls around.
I get it God, really, I do!
But God isn’t quite so sure. Half the textbooks were out of stock, which means I get a second chance at cleaning up my middot in another three days. I can’t wait.