Sometimes You Already Have the Answers
To whom do you listen? It’s a question that I often ask myself as an entrepreneur, a father and a man.
One of the strongest answers I have ever read was written by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, who was struggling with many issues in his life, and ended up calling Chabad Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for advice.
Weinreb tells this story:
The Rebbe’s secretary answered the phone in English, with a simple, “Hello, who’s this?”
Now, as I was talking to the secretary, in the background — I recognized his voice from the farbrengens I had attended– the Rebbe was asking in Yiddish, “Who’s calling?”
I replied, “A yid fun Maryland” (“A Jew from Maryland”).
I told the secretary that I had many questions which I would like to discuss with the Rebbe — questions about what direction my life should take, questions regarding my career, questions of faith. I explained that I was at a very uncertain stage in my life and I didn’t know where to turn.
I spoke in English and, as I was talking, the Rebbe’s secretary was repeating and paraphrasing my words in Yiddish — I imagine he was doing this so that the Rebbe could hear.
And then I heard the Rebbe say in the background, in Yiddish: ‘Tell him that there is a Jew who lives in Maryland that he can speak to. Der yid hayst Veinreb” (his name is Weinreb).
The secretary asked me, “Did you hear what the Rebbe said?”
Now, I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew for sure I had not given the secretary my name, but the Rebbe had just said my name! I was taken aback, and I wanted to hear it again. So when the secretary asked whether I heard, I said no.
The secretary repeated the Rebbe’s words to me: “S’iz doh a yid in Maryland mit vemen er zol redden. Zayn numen iz Veinreb.” (There’s a Jew in Maryland whom he should talk to. His name is Weinreb.)
So I replied, “But my name is Weinreb!” And then I heard the Rebbe say, “Oib azoi, zol er visen zayn az amol darf men reden tzu rich ” (If that’s the case, then he should know that, sometimes, one needs to speak to himself.)
The secretary also seemed stunned by what was taking place. He just stopped, and I could hear his breathing. And then he said to me, “The Rebbe said that sometimes it’s best to talk to yourself. Isn’t your name Weinreb?”
“Yes, my name is Weinreb, but maybe the Rebbe means a different Weinreb.”
“No, the Rebbe’s saying, ‘Talk to Weinreb,’ and he explained that you must to talk to yourself.'”
Of course, the story demonstrates that the answers live within us, and we must learn to listen to ourselves.
What is right for me is not right for you — or as my daughter reminds me when I tell her stories, “Dad I am not you.”
Advice is great — but what is better is learning to understand yourself. As Rabbi Weinreb wrote, “Before you go asking this and that of another person, first talk to yourself and listen to what you have to say about it — sometimes your own advice is the best advice.”
Rabbi Avi Weiss tells a story about a wise rabbi who knew the answer to any question anyone could ask him.
He traveled from town to town teaching and answering questions. One day he arrived in a town and a young girl cried out: ‘’I have a question for you, Rabbi, and I’m sure you can’t answer it.’’ The rabbi smiled and said ‘’Ask.’’ She spoke: ‘’I have a bird hidden behind my back, held carefully in my hands. Is the bird dead or alive?” She had already come up with two answers that would be the opposite of what the rabbi would say: If he answered ‘‘It is dead,’’ then she would let it go free, and if he answered ‘’It is alive,” then she would crush it and kill it.
The rabbi knew that the young girl was intent on tricking him. He answered her: “My dear child, you hold the bird in your hands. The answer all depends on you. You can let it live, or you can take its life. The answer is in your hands.”
The answers are within us. Find yourself and find the answers.
Ronn Torossian is a New York-based entrepreneur.