It was the last day of mid-winter vacation. The sun was shining brightly, the ocean was calm and blue, and the temperature hovered in the mid-70’s (Just threw that in to make New Yorkers jealous!). We hadn’t really taken any family trips during this time so we decided to go out with a bang and go “segway”-ing along the beach. If you haven’t tried it, segwaying (I’m sure it’s not yet a legitimate verb) is a lot of fun – especially when done in such a setting. (I also did it recently in Talpiot on the Haas Promenade overlooking Jerusalem – now that’s beautiful!)

Anyway, the view was spectacular, the weather perfect (did I mention that?) and there was the additional challenge of trying to weave in and out of the pedestrians and bikers. As we passed one group on bikes, I heard one guy mutter to another, as he glanced in our direction, “They are so lazy.”

At first I was outraged. How dare he?! He doesn’t even know me! Should I stop and tell him that I already got my exercise for the day; that I ran on the treadmill before I came to the beach?

Then I began to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Why did I care what some complete stranger thinks? Why do I feel the need to present him with justification for my activities and choices? A simple “Harumph” or better yet, completely ignoring him would have sufficed.

Finally I had the most sobering thought of all. I had been him. We frequently go biking at the beach and I always looked at those segwayers (now I’m creating nouns) and thought they were lazy. I felt virtuous and self-righteous about the fact that I was biking and they were cruising. Didn’t they recognize how much healthier my activity was than theirs? Didn’t they care about their bodies and their health? How self-indulgent they were…

It never occurred to me that perhaps, like me last week, they weren’t there for the exercise, that they were just having fun. And even more than that, it was family time. It was an opportunity to see the beautiful California coast.

And worse than that, I was so quick to judge – complete strangers, whose lives I knew nothing about, quick to put a negative spin on their activities and motivations. I may never have muttered the words but my thoughts were loud. I felt embarrassed by my own shallowness.

Why did I feel the need to judge them at all? Sometimes when our feelings are hurt, it can be a challenge to fulfill the mitzvah of judging others favorably. And yet we must try. But in this situation, the other vacationers had done nothing to me. We had no relationship whatsoever. They hadn’t spoken to me. They certainly hadn’t hurt or insulted me. And yet my instinctive reaction was to be critical of them. Not a moment to be proud of. The desire to build ourselves up at the expense of others is so ingrained and so insidious that it requires constant vigilance not to give in to it. I guess my defenses were down (see how I try to judge myself favorably!) as I was caught up in the pleasure of the moment. But we can never relax our defenses because that’s when our base inclinations see their chance to attack and thrive!

I like to think that, besides the fun, the family time and the opportunity to once again appreciate the Almighty’s beautiful world, I gained some perspective, that I made a small stride forward in the area of thinking before I speak, in constantly being on my guard and judging others more favorably.

Turns out it wasn’t only a pleasurable activity (which it definitely was) but a chance for growth as well.

And did I mention the gorgeous weather?