Recap: Genine woke on an ordinary morning, raring to go to her daily 6 a.m. exercise class. It was pitch-black outside when she slowly pulled out of her driveway and, to her horror, heard an unexpected smash.
It became clear that she had collided with her neighbor’s geriatric van. Simmering with righteous indignation, she fumed about the number of times she had asked him not to park there on the street, and she drove off to her gym, reasoning that because she had been driving so slowly, her tiny car couldn’t have inflicted any damage.
When she returned home, she spotted a large, ugly indentation on the van, alongside many minor scratches and dents. She wondered whether she should confess despite not knowing whether she caused that damage.
Hashem Sees All
I am sorry if this response seems rude, but you asked: This story is disgraceful.
Did you really leave the scene of an accident that was your fault? What do you think a police officer would say if you told him you didn’t want to miss your Pilates class? Do you realize you could have been arrested? Yes, you would be responsible to pay for damages. Yes, you would get points on your license. Yes, your insurance could go up.
I know this sounds harsh, but some people will look at this article, maybe your kids, and think, “So what if I just take an apple; I don’t have any change” or “I don’t have money for this meal; let’s run!”
What if I lie on my résumé, cheat in college or make a mistake during surgery that costs someone his life? Would you say, “He was old and sick, with not much longer to live anyway?”
Hashem is, of course, the final arbiter, but for me, if I did something like that, the look of disappointment on my father’s face would be much worse than any ticket or insurance problem.
You knew this person parked there every day, legally. It was your responsibility to be careful. If you were late, were tired, were rushed, were not paying attention and were not backing up carefully, put on your big-girl pants and woman up to your responsibility.
When the time comes to answer to heaven, this may be a small infraction, but will it lead to a life of excuses for not doing the right thing? How will you judge your husband’s indiscretions, and how will you teach your children when they do something to injure someone?
We Jews were given the gift and the responsibility to exemplify morality. Remember the Ten Commandments? No. 7 is no stealing; No. 8 is no lying? We still hold that responsibility and honor, which is not always easy but is always right.
Go to your neighbor, apologize, show humility and insist on paying for the damage you caused. (Do not pay for a new van. Back your car, carefully and slowly, close to his van, and you will see the spot where you hit his van.)
You will feel better, sleep with a clear conscience, face your family without guilt and teach your children what is right by example. I know this sounds extreme, but a little pebble in your shoe can ruin your trip.
Do the right thing. It will be a mitzvah, and Hashem will smile on you and bless you.
True to Yourself
A tough dilemma indeed. As you said, if you had thought to assess the situation immediately, the right course would have been clear. Hindsight is 20/20.
You pride yourself on being honest, so be true to yourself. Can you live with the knowledge that you may have caused someone damage and owe him compensation? Or do you feel that because it’s an old vehicle, what’s another dent in the overall scheme of things?
Your neighbor doesn’t seem to care about the van’s appearance, and one more dent won’t deduct from its compromised worth. Have a long talk with yourself and your conscience, and perhaps ask a spouse or friend for advice.
Good luck. Next time, even at such an unearthly hour, don’t forget to look behind you.
— Gil Stern
You hit the car. You should have stayed, awoken the neighbor and let the chips fall.
Yes, your husband might be aggravated, but you still have to repair the car. Your conscience is your guide. There is no question as to the right course of action.
If you were 16, you’d be afraid, but your parents would make you tell the neighbor. You are an adult.
How could you have left the accident? Is this any different than hit-and-run? The police will likely decide if the car was parked incorrectly.
— Edith Pilzer
Feeling Your Pain
I feel your pain. The house across the street from ours has been a rental for most of 22 years. Every tenant has parked directly across from our driveway. We have asked them not to, but it has continued to happen.
Years ago, a friend of a tenant parked there, and my cousin backed into the car. Guess whom the police blamed? So, legally, it was your fault, but if there were common-sense police, they’d charge your neighbor.
When the latest tenant moved in recently, I told him we’d get along just fine if he would remember my simple rule: Don’t park behind my driveway. So far, he wins as the best neighbor yet.
— Sharon Goren
Leave a Note
It sounds as if you’re uncertain whether your neighbor is a man of integrity. You mentioned a concern that he would use the accident as an excuse to fix up many of the marks on his car.
I have an innovative suggestion. What if you drop a note in his mailbox with a friend’s cell number? When he calls, your friend can describe what happened and assess his reaction. He might just thank the caller for being honest. Or he might insist that there is one new flaw and demand remuneration.
Depending on his reaction, if it sounds reasonable, you can chart your plan of action.
— Barbara Levy
Do Unto Him
Whenever I’m uncertain about the best course of action, I flip around the problem and ask myself, “How would you like to be treated in this situation?”
If you would overlook the accident because of the perpetrator’s uncertainty whether she even did anything, fine. But if you would expect to be told so that you could either fix the damage or collect the money to which you’re entitled, shouldn’t you give the victim the same courtesy?
We’re told in Psalms that G-d is our shadow. Just as a shadow mimics your every move, so G-d emulates the ways you act. In other words, G-d treats you the way you treat others.
With that in mind, I wish you calm and peace.
— A Friend
Ask a Rabbi
We’re so lucky to have Torah as our guide. Rabbis are knowledgeable in the laws of damage and can instruct you regarding your moral obligation. Use this resource, and remember that even if you must pay, you will never lose by doing the right thing.
— Shalom Freund
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