Rabbi’s Corner

How do you respond to wrong turns in life?

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

One of my favorite stories of my grandfather involves driving home from a Dodgers game. Dodger Stadium is located adjacent to downtown Los Angeles. Even when a game ends late in the evening there’s traffic from the stadium, plus regular evening traffic downtown. In his later years, my grandfather’s sight was failing so whenever we would have family outings, one of the grandchildren drove the car. My grandfather always sat in the passenger seat in front giving directions. I was the driver that evening; but when I drove my grandfather, I was always in a panic. He had lived in Los Angeles since the ’40s and he knew the “correct” way to get from one location to another. He also knew all of the ways to avoid traffic. I was always nervous behind the wheel because I did not dare make a mistake. I often would repeat what he said to make sure that I understood.

So there we were inching our way through the traffic of cars exiting Chavez Ravine and all of a sudden, as we were approaching an intersection, my grandfather said (very clearly, mind you), “Turn left there.” I drove through the intersection, intending to make a left turn at the next light and my grandfather asked incredulously, “Why didn’t you make the turn?” I responded in a cold sweat, “You said, ‘Turn left there,’ not ‘Turn left here.’” Surprisingly, he did not get mad at me. He chuckled, knowing that although in his mind he had clearly stated his intentions, he was misunderstood.

I now drive a car with a GPS system. I do not really need it in Tucson. Like my grandfather in Los Angeles, I have been here for enough years to know how to get to my destination in the quickest manner, and I know the roads to take if there is congestion. Nevertheless, I will turn it on from time to time to see its suggested route. Sometimes, either by mistake or by intention, I will not take the turn the GPS tells me to take. What is amazing is that the system does not get mad at me. It does not call me names. If I make a mistake it responds, “Recalculating … ” It says, “Make a U-turn” so that I can try that again. Or perhaps it suggests another route entirely.

What happens when you make a wrong turn? Do you get mad? Do you blame it on bad directions from others? You can do that — or you can say, “Recalculating” or perhaps chuckle like my grandfather did at my mistake. I could share any number of Jewish stories about our struggle with the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hara (the good and evil inclinations) to illustrate this. Allow me to share a story attributed to Native Americans as a way to honor my 23 years here in Tucson.

A grandfather told his grandson about a fight that was going on inside his heart. He said it was between two wolves.

One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The grandfather simply replied, “The one I feed.”


No matter how many wrong turns you or someone else may make, perhaps the kinder, gentler response is one with a chuckle: “Recalculating.”