Erev Rosh Hashanah 5781
September 18, 2020
What Does A Yellow Light Mean?
by Rabbi Alan Cook
Sinai Temple, Champaign, IL


There’s a scene from the TV series Taxi that keeps coming to my mind in the recent weeks and months.  Christopher Lloyd, playing the burned-out hippie “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski tries to get a job driving for the Sunshine Cab Company.  The other cabbies befriend him and accompany him to the DMV to help him with the written portion of his licensing test.

Jim looks at the exam and is already befuddled by the first question.  He whispers to Bobby Wheeler (portrayed by Jeff Conaway), “What does a yellow light mean?”  Bobby replies through gritted teeth, “Slow down.”

But then, Jim, misunderstanding Bobby’s response, just proceeds to ask the question slower: “What…does…a…yellow…light…mean?”  Bobby again repeats the answer, “Slow down,” and so the confused Jim shrugs his shoulders and tries again: “Whaaaat….doooes….aaaa….yellllooow….liiiight….meeean?”  The scene proceeds in this manner for several minutes before the camera cuts away.[1]

Here’s the thing, though: we all could stand to slow down a bit.  We all need some yellow lights in our lives.  Before we dismiss Reverend Jim as a kook who didn’t understand what Bobby was telling him in the context of the moment, let’s take time to think about how pacing ourselves can be beneficial.

If you drive anything like I do (which I don’t necessarily recommend!), you may view the yellow light not as a warning to slow down, but as a nudge to hurry up so you can make it through the light.

Certainly, the past several months we spent realigning our behavior in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many of us to modify our usual routines and perhaps to slow down a bit.  Having restricted ourselves from interactions with others, our calendars are taking new shape, and many of us have found respite from some of the constant running we used to do.  One friend and colleague reported that she had been able to enjoy more than 125 consecutive family dinners together; unheard of in a pre-COVID schedule.  At Sinai, I’ve noted that a number of you have participated more broadly in services and programming being offered online, now that you can just step into your living room (or wherever you keep your computer) and connect with us instantaneously.  To be sure, many of us are still very busy, but I’d suggest that even the busy-ness has taken on a different tone: more deliberate and more focused.


For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet 

Joy Harjo – 1951-

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Taxi- What does a yellow light mean?  Slow Down!

AJ Jacobs Thanks a Thousand


[1] “Reverend Jim, A Space Odyssey,” season 2, episode 3.  Written by Glen Charles and Les Charles, originally aired September 25, 1979.