Not many people know this

Friday, 12 October, 2018 - 8:32 am


Not many people know this, but once upon a time I had a big white van, on which there was a lit-up yellow advertisement that proclaimed such things as “Love your fellow as yourself,” and “Mashiach Now”. I was young and newly married and my father-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Gorelick, had given us his old Volkswagen Transporter for our use. Except that this gift came with a string in the form of a plastic light on the roof, as mentioned.

Once, my father-in-law and I were driving down a street in Bnei Brak. As usual, we were having a light argument. I was claiming that the advertisement on the vehicle brings about the opposite of what we want – Look, people are looking at us and laughing. My father-in-law, though, was claiming that this was positive propaganda and that it is important. Besides, the people are not laughing: they are smiling and happy to see our van.

For many years I kept this conversation with my father-in-law in mind. Every once in a while I would learn something more from it. At the beginning I learned that one can sit in the same car and have relatively loaded conversation, but conduct it calmly and lovingly. Afterwards I learned that every situation can be viewed from different angles, even opposite ones. Then I learned that you yourself choose how to view a situation you’re facing. If you choose to see the people smiling, you will feel great; and if you choose to see them laughing at you, you will feel uncomfortable. This is an extremely important message, especially for a Chabadnik who runs a Chabad House: the definition of his job includes going against conventions and in addition, every few years one has to go against one’s own conventions. But the main point I learned only in the past few years: The main thing is that you see in others what you have in yourself. And if I see that people are laughing at me, it is because inside I too am laughing at myself and at what I represent. (And yes, at the time I laughed at what my car represented.) If I would have been sure of myself and of what I was representing, I would have seen that they were smiling, like my father-in-law saw.

And why did I remember all this this week? Because for many years Noach built an ark, and he and his family were against the entire world. Every day people laughed at him, and, as the Gemara in masechet Sanhedrin says, they would “disgrace him. They said to him: Old man, what it is this ark for?”

I don’t know what he felt while he was doing this. Did he do it happily, or did he complain along the way about his miserable fate? Were his children proud of his actions or did they feel inferior to the whole world? Did he say at home, “What a great merit I have”? Or did his wife, Naama, hear him complaining and voicing bleak thoughts?

Because if he would have been with me in the van at that time, certainly he would have learned that almost everything is dependent on one’s own viewpoint, and one’s own viewpoint depends on what one feels inside.

One thing is for sure: In the end he completed the task – perfectly.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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