Anyone who lives in Monsey (or Rockland County) is familiar with the challenge of driving on the Palisades Interstate Parkway at night. During the day, the parkway boasts beautiful scenery of passing trees, especially during the fall foliage season. But at night, there is nothing to see but passing white lines, making the trip arduous and monotonous.
A friend of mine related that he was once driving down the Palisades very late one evening (to be more precise, it was quite early the following morning). He was tired and eager to get home after a long day, and his hasty driving reflected it. Somewhere along the way, to his utter chagrin, he noticed glaring lights in his rearview mirror, and he reluctantly pulled over.
After the cop asked him for his license and registration, my friend tried to bargain, “But, officer, I was only going with the traffic.” The cop laughed heartily and replied, “Son, at this hour of the night, you are the traffic!”
In one of his classic addresses in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, once quipped to a study hall full of teenage yeshivah boys, “Don’t go with the flow; you may go over the falls.”
The Mishnah in Avos (2:5) advises: “In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man!” In a situation where no one is willing to grab the reins and steer the horse forward, someone must be willing to bear the yoke of responsibility and goad the chariot ahead.
At the same time, there are many situations when one should opt for a passive “back-seat” role. When there is sufficient leadership, there is a vital need for followers who are willing to subjugate themselves to the direction and leadership of others.
As with everything in life, the key is to understand this balance and to have the wisdom to know when to lead and when to follow. Following blindly, at the wrong time, may land you at the bottom of the falls, but leading blindly can earn you a hefty ticket.