Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

Sunday morning, June 17, 2019, will remain fresh in my mind for a long time. 

I awoke at 3:40 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight from Dayton International Airport to New York. I’d accepted an invitation to be the guest speaker at an event in Springfield, New Jersey at 10:30 that morning: the completion and dedication of a new Torah scroll for the Jewish community there. I was making good progress on the lonely trip up I-75  when it started to rain. I casually turned on my windshield wipers as usual.

But only then did I realize that my driver-side windshield wiper was broken, so I could not see anything in front of me. I pulled off at the nearest exit (41), and parked in the lot of the emergency room of Miami Valley Hospital, on Austin Road. AAA came and towed my car to the airport, and I parked my car in the valet parking area. After rushing through security and reaching the gate, I found out that I’d missed my flight by three minutes, and all the following flights were full. I called AAA again and had my car towed home to Cincinnati.

Sitting in the passenger seat of the tow truck gave me time to reflect on what I’d just experienced. How could this series of events be a source of inspiration in my spiritual growth? I decided to research the history of windshield wipers, to get a better sense of what positive lesson I could apply to my own life from then on. 

The first windshield wiper was patented by Mary Anderson, a real estate developer, cattle rancher, and winemaker, in 1903. While riding a streetcar in New York City during a rainstorm, Anderson noticed that the streetcar operator was struggling with extremely poor visibility, causing him to open his window and stick his head out. Upon seeing this, Anderson automatically began drawing up the design for a windshield wiper, operated by the driver, to help improve visibility. By 1916, manual windshield wipers were standard equipment on most vehicles, allowing for further technological advancements. William M. Folberth patented the first non-hand-driven windshield wipers in 1919. These automatic wipers used a vacuum-powered system, and they soon supplanted the earlier version as standard automobile equipment. This vacuum-powered system was widely used until the 1960s, when intermittent wipers became more common.

After much thought, I realized a lesson from this story. Our lives begin with a journey of the soul into this physical world. While in heaven, the soul sees great opportunities to accomplish much in this world: only in our world, as opposed to the worlds of the angels, can physical mitzvos be done. From heaven, the soul sees the great pleasure to G-d Almighty from seeing these mitzvos performed in the world, and the blessings that the soul can receive for performing the Mitzvos in this world.The soul yearns to travel to this special destination – here on earth, where mitzvos are performed – but it needs a “vehicle,” that is, the soul travels down into a physical body to perform mitzvos.

Yet somewhere along this earthbound journey of life, it starts raining. The realities of this world blur the soul’s vision. Instead of continuing to see the value of learning from the Torah and doing mitzvos, we can become focused on a world that covets money, power, beauty, and influence. We can end up parking our “car” at the sidelines of the road of life, sometimes for many years. Some people never reach their original destination.

The good news is that the “driver” of the car – the soul in each body – has one simple windshield-wiper-like tool to restore its original vision: starting off each day with a declaration of thanks and faith in G-d Almighty will keep our outlook clear for the rest of the day. There is a short, traditional prayer upon awakening, called “Modeh Ani – I give thanks:” sort of the Jewish version of our U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. This prayer, translated into English, reads: “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” If we get into the habit of saying this and teaching our young children to say this every morning, we are better prepared to reach our true destination, fulfilling our true purpose.

Anyone else need to fix their windshield wiper?

Shabbat Shalom!

You can email Rabbi Gerson Avtzon at  lessonsinlife@americanisraelite.com.

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