Just a Lyft to the airport and, as usual, I sit in the front passenger seat.

“So sir,” he asks me, “What do you do?”

“I raise children. Grandchildren too. I learn. I read books. I pray to G‑d to provide for us. And then I have a job where I work, the channel through which G‑d provides. What do you do?”

“Well sir, I drive.”

“No, no, no. Today, ‘What do you do?’ means ‘Who are you?’ What do you do with your life?”

“I have five children.”

“Now we’re talking.”

A short silence. The car is moving slower than those to our left and to our right. He’s not in a rush to get me to my flight on time.

“Sir, now I will ask you a question. I believe you are the person I must ask. I need you to answer this for me.”

A little intimidating, but I’m game.

“Sir, I am not from here. And in the country that I am from, we don’t treat our wives like they do here. We marry a wife, we bring her home, and we forget about her. That is what my father did with my mother and that is what I did with my wife.”

“So I brought my wife and my children to this land, and I continued the same way. We never spoke about any of the things that were important. I never shared anything with her. We didn’t talk except for whatever must be talked.”

“So my wife never heard a nice word from me. I didn’t think men did that.”

“Until, one day, my wife and I had a fight. And she said something. She told me there was another man who said nice things about her and he listened to her when she talked. She started yelling at me why couldn’t I be like him.”

“That got me so angry. I left the house and slammed the door. I stayed away from my home for a week and a half.”

“My family, they said I must leave her. My dad, my brothers, even my mom. They said she must have been with this man. I was burning. I was burning. What if they were right?”

“But after a while, I thought about it. And I thought, if they are right, it’s my fault. I never told her anything nice. I never, never said I loved her, not since we married. I never listened to her when she spoke.”

“I didn’t want to believe what they said. But maybe, maybe I pushed her into something so bad. If it was true, I pushed her.”

“You know, I realized she suffered. I realized my mom, she suffered too. And I had become just like my dad.”

“I came back home and I told her I am sorry and I love her. The first time she heard me say that since we were married. You know, she cried. She promised me she was never with that man. She said she wouldn’t do that. She said she just wanted to get at me.”

“I showed her the flowers I brought her. She cried. We sat down and she talked and I listened to what she talked. I never did this before. She cried more. I told her I love her and I’m staying with her.”

He paused. I waited for the question.

“But now, sir, now I have this heavy weight on me. Because I was such a lousy man. Who knows where this all could have gone? I was blaming her, and I was pushing her to something so bad.”

Now he was waiting for my answer. Without saying the words, he was crying, “Set me free.”

I thought back to what I had learned that day. You know, the Baal Shem Tov taught that if you have a problem to solve, think back to the Torah you learned that day. There you will find your answer.

“I’ll answer you with a parable from a great rabbi,” I said.

He nodded. The car was moving even slower.

“Fifty years ago, they sent a man to the moon. They had a problem, a big problem. The moon is far and a rocketship is heavy. It takes a lot of fuel to get a heavy rocketship to the moon.”

He was being patient.

“But the more fuel you add, the bigger the rocketship has to be, and heavier too. Which means yet more fuel. And more weight.”

“So what did they do? They stored the fuel in modules. Not one big gas tank like this car. Separate tanks. As soon as one tank was empty, the rocketship dropped it. Then the next one. Then the next. And they made it to the moon and back.”

“So now, you had some fuel. It burned inside you, it could have destroyed you, but instead, you put it to good use. With that fuel, you got out of a bad place and into a good place.”

“But now you need to keep going higher. And the only way to do that is by dropping that empty tank. Because right now, all that guilt, all that anger, all those questions about her, all those feelings that you’re no good because of how you were pushing her—all those empty tanks from the past, they aren’t helping you go higher. They’re burning you up, holding you down.”

“Jettison that junk into empty space. Leave it behind and don’t think about it anymore. Find some better fuel. Like even more love, more respect. Like what it means to be a husband and a father. Don’t be thinking all the time how bad you were. Think of how good you can be. Let that take you high.”

“Yes,” he said. He seemed lighter now, just a little. Just enough for take-off. “Thank you. It’s holding me down.”

“There’s international departures, right there,” I pointed.

“Oh there. Yes, I’ll drop you there.”

He turned in, stopped, got out and handed me my carry-on. He wished me a good trip. I answered, “And you, keep going higher and higher. Like a rocketship.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll do that too.”

I made my flight. I hope he caught his as well. Perhaps we could all catch that flight.

The rocketship analogy can be found here, in the Rebbe’s talk after the first manned orbit of the moon, Autumn 1968.