SOURCE-RY It’s the morning after Shavuos, and after a three-day break, my cell phone is, unsurprisingly, dead as a doornail. On my way out to daven, I plug it into a charger, but strangely, it doesn’t turn on. No time to investigate now. Shacharis beckons and my neighborhood isn’t one of those where there’s another minyan in 15 minutes. 

Following davening, I head to the dry cleaner to hand in two suits I’ll need back in two days for a trip out of town. At 9:15 a. m. , the strip mall’s parking lot is nearly empty, but for convenience, I pull up right in front of the store. Technically, the area in front of the row of businesses isn’t designated for parking, but that’s how it’s used by everyone, every day. 

Not today. I emerge from the actual cleaners to find myself being figuratively taken to the cleaners, courtesy of the nice people from the Nassau County Police Department. Sitting in a car alongside mine are two officers, a veteran teaching a rookie how to fill out a ticket for parking in a fire zone, with a hefty fine to follow. On-the-job training, if you will, with my car as the instrument of instruction. 

Now, there was a patent injustice in this. Later that very day, scores and scores, of cars would be parking all along this “fire zone” — as designated by one lone sign much farther down, the yellow lines on the pavement nearly faded — with no consequence. Yet here I had pulled up for a two-minute stop that had turned into five when the proprietor (cleaning lady?) couldn’t immediately locate the shirts I was picking up. That would now cost me the equivalent of ten trips to the cleaners. It’s called selective enforcement of the law, and it doesn’t feel very good when it happens to you. 

But, of course, there was nothing unjust about what had happened — and I knew it full well. He Who, every moment of my life, is laser-focused on what I need to do to grow and thrive as a person, had decided this was the right time to make a withdrawal from my bank account and to test my reaction thereto. It made not the slightest difference whether the particular form of that withdrawal was a fender-bender, a doctor’s visit, or a parking summons. So, was this “just”? Yes, it was just what I needed. 

But here’s where applying principles of bitachon can get a bit complicated. Sure, this is the way it was supposed to be for me. But what about the choice of the good officer to engage in this seemingly arbitrary and likely futile exercise of police power? Wasn’t that highly unfair, and didn’t I need to say something about that? 

And so I did. To be sure, my clear knowledge that this was all Yad Hashem influenced how I went about remonstrating with the good-natured officer in the driver’s seat. I didn’t cross the line — I hope — between a citizen’s right to register a respectful protest and acting inappropriately. I kept my voice down. I professed my respect for law enforcement and that I had taught my children to display the same. 

But I went on to tell the cop that it didn’t do much for the public’s regard for the police when they show up in an empty parking lot early on a Tuesday morning to give a few tickets for something that later that same day, hundreds of others would do with impunity. It struck the average citizen as an exercise in municipal fundraising, not civic welfare. 

I tried to get him to admit that he was doing this because it was his job, not because he believed it to be fair; that he’d feel the same way standing in my shoes, and indeed, probably once had and felt the same way I did now. He was having none of my appeal to reason and fair play, although this obviously decent man’s facial expression seemed to tell me otherwise. 

I wasn’t looking to avoid the ticket — it was too late for that — just for a bit of affirmation and commiseration. All the while, I said to myself that I wasn’t trying to escape what Hashem obviously wanted me to experience. I just wanted all involved to be open about the essential unfairness of the situation. 

But finally, it was time to pack it in and head home. And as I did, I began to realize that the more I really felt that this was Hashem’s way of tapping my spiritual mettle to see what it’s made of, the less passionate I felt about the officer’s sense of fairness. I wasn’t, after all, overly concerned about other areas of his moral progress, such as how much charity he gives. Just as when someone says it’s “about the principle,” it’s often actually about the principal (and the interest, too). I had told myself it was about him, when it was probably more about me. 

When the Source of everything that happens to you and His pure goodness is truly crystal clear, the emotional resonance tends to dissipate and shivyon hanefesh, equanimity, takes its place. And then, the very fact that your car was chosen for ticketing from among the hundreds of others parked there that day turns from a basis for outrage over the unfairness of it all into a clear sign that this is your moment to rise and shine, because, to borrow the words of an old niggun, “when you least expect it, you’re elected, you’re the star today…” 

I’d scored an 80, okay maybe an 83. 5, on my bitachon pop quiz, but there was still room to grow. 

Back home, I turned my attention to the mystery of my unrevivable cell phone. I was still fiddling with the wire connecting my phone to the charger when my wife entered the kitchen and said her phone had been attached to that same charger all night without effect because… it wasn’t plugged into the outlet. Another charger was, and the tangle of wires had led us both to mistakenly believe our phones were connected to it. 

It’s all about tracing things back to the source, and Source. 

PERIODS, PERIOD The late master of the writing craft, William Zinsser, once noted that there’s “not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.” But the little dot that Zinsser considered so indispensable for reigning in the scourge of run-on sentences has apparently fallen into disfavor with the digitally obsessed younger generation. 

In the Washington Post, Jeff Guo observes that “one of the cardinal rules of texting… is that you don’t use periods, period. Not unless you want to come off as cold, angry or passive-aggressive.” The rationale behind this seems to be that “the line break has become the default method of punctuation in the 21st century.” 

As a result, according to University of California linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, it is “not necessary to use a period in a text message [and] so to make something explicit that is already implicit makes a point of it.” And thus has the tiny, harmless period metamorphosed into the “evil twin of the exclamation point,” there only to add “emphasis — but a nasty, dour sort of emphasis.” 

So, with the permission of management, I’ll use this space to send a public service announcement to all friends, relatives, and other interested parties: When I send y’all messages that contain proper punctuation, including such endangered species as the period, I’m not feeling the least bit angry or cold. I’m just being my curmudgeonly self, doing my part to resist the effects of the digititis that has infected so many of us. 

When I laboriously tap out on my phone, letter-by-letter, fully formed words, sentences, and paragraphs, properly punctuated and devoid of homemade abbreviations, emoticons, and sundry other expressions of violence against written English, I’m performing, and co-opting you into, an act of defiance against the contemporary undermining of interpersonal communication. (Now that was a period come not a moment too soon). I’m striking a blow on behalf of the care and attention, the precision and craftsmanship we all once, not too long ago, lavished on our communications, and by extension on those with whom we were communicating. Faintly weird? Some would say so. But not remotely passive-aggressive. 

That’s not to say, of course, that a period can’t ever come with an attitude. They tell of a nouveau riche Jewish matron who, having moved up from 1950s Brooklyn to tony Scarsdale, called in an interior decorator to transform her new suburban digs. “Mrs. Goldberg,” he inquired, “what period were you thinking of for the furnishings? Maybe French Provincial, or perhaps something Bauhaus?” “What period?” she responded. “I want that when my girlfriends visit from the old neighborhood, they should come in, take one look, and faint away. Period.”