My Uber Rebbe
This week I needed to take my Saab in for a repair. It’s an ‘07 and this has been happening more frequently. This time it was the ac fan motor. About a month ago it was the compressor. I am at that point where I am debating whether to throw in the towel on this vehicle or not. At what point do I say enough? The driver seat is ripped, the badge on the hood has come off (I do have a new one that I have yet to glue on), it groans and creaks which means it needs new struts and pretty soon Rami from Jet Auto is going to charge me rent for having my car there so often.
Things were not going well for me that particular day. Our water heater broke at home and needed replacing, there was a leak under the sink at Aish, the water fountain at Aish was leaking as well (Hmmm, a lot of leaks now that I think of it), I pulled my back out earlier in the week and it was hurting and I still had a residual cough from my sinus infection a few weeks ago. While none of these things were major issues in their own right compared to some really tsuris – serious problems that others have in their lives – all of them together made me an unhappy camper.
And then Barry, the Uber driver, walked into my life. Barry is the chill African-American who arrived in his black Toyota Camry to take me from Jet Auto to Aish. After initial hellos and “how long have you been an Uber driver?”, (About a year and no, it is not a full-time gig, he also sells books to schools) he asked me what I do. Rabbi. Well, once he found out that I am a man of the cloth, he got to talking. He spoke about how it isn’t so much about believing in God “but having a relationship with the Father. It is something that is infinite and has endless layers to it. And like any relationship, it has its ups and downs.” I totally concurred.
In fact, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt”l used to pose the question of why have a mitzvah to believe in God; the source being the first of the Ten Commandments. Either you do believe in God – and you don’t need a command/mitzvah to tell you to. Or you don’t – and a commandment to believe in God is therefore meaningless. Hence the mitzvah seems redundant.
Rav Yaakov answered that the mitzvah is not to believe in God but to have a relationship with him. And that’s why Maimonides, in his list of the 613 Commandments, calls it, ‘לידע את ה To Know there is a God. The word לידע – know always implies an intimate knowledge of and relationship with, and in fact it is used in the Torah to refer to sex – an ultimate expression of relationship.
So Rav Yaakov, Rambam and Barry the Uber driver are all on the same page on this one.
When I told him about my woes with my Saab, he assured me that God has a plan for me. “He has something better in store for you. Maybe He is telling you, ‘It’s time to get rid of that old thing because I want you to drive something far superior.’ We all get too attached to some material things in our lives.” Barry kept going on about this, well after we reached Aish, as he delivered his Mussar shmuz to me in the front seat of his Camry.
And sure enough, the more I listened to Barry, the better I started to feel. I was no longer an unhappy camper. And the funny thing is, he was not telling me anything new. In fact, he was telling me stuff that I tell others all the time and have heard dozens of times elsewhere. But it nevertheless had its impact on me because it was something I needed to hear at that time and at that place in my life.
This chance encounter also taught me something that I have often wondered about. As a rabbi, I sometimes ask myself how many times can I repeat the same idea or notion to people that they have already heard? Don’t they get tired of hearing the same message? You sometimes hear that a coach has been fired because they have “lost the locker room”. That is, people have stopped listening to him. Their message has become stale and at times I fear the same about myself.
But the simple fact of the matter is, although we may have heard a truth or piece of wisdom repeatedly, it does not take away from the profound effect it has on us when we hear it at a moment in our lives when we are feeling weak or vulnerable and need a lift. All of us need some inspiration and to hear uplifting words, no matter how simple they are or how often we have heard them before. And when those words come from an outside party – no matter who they are – and arrive at a particularly crucial moment, they have an impression on our souls.
A famous Mishna in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) that I quoted last week states, “Who is Wise? He who learns from everyone.” It isn’t always the great sage who imparts wisdom to us that makes a difference in our lives. Sometimes it’s the devout Uber driver who happens to be the right person who comes along at the right time and changes how we are feeling that day.
So thanks Rav Barry.
‘Cause you came and you took control
You touched my very soul…
You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life
-Blood Sweat and Tears