April 22, 2024
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April 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

There’s an expression that doesn’t really reflect its meaning but rather the way an idea is conveyed. You’ve likely seen a cartoon or picture of a person with a light bulb glowing over his or her head. It’s intended to convey some realization, a moment of enlightenment or inspiration when a solution to a problem is found, hence the term, “light bulb moment.”

It doesn’t really apply to the inventor of the light bulb, as Thomas Edison tried over 2,000 different filaments for his light bulb before settling on the right one. It wasn’t a sudden inspiration, but one born of trial and error.

Elias Howe, on the other hand, who invented the sewing machine, struggled with how to integrate the needle until he had a dream. In his dream, cannibals were chasing him and the spears they carried had holes in the tip of the blade. He realized that he had to move the hole of the needle from the heel, as it is in manual sewing needles, and place it at the tip. This moment of inspiration simply came to him, so maybe we should be calling it a “needle tip moment.”

Regardless of whether it’s historically accurate or not, the concept of a confusing or troubling situation being illuminated with a solution is drawn as a light bulb lit over someone’s head, so the phrase remains.

As an inventor, I often have these “eureka!” moments when something is suddenly clear to me. You probably didn’t know I was an inventor, because most of my inventions have been made by other people.

For example, anyone who’s ever rummaged through a kitchen drawer looking for corn-on-the-cob skewers has likely experienced finding them with your fingers before your eyes. It made me envision a pair of corn skewers that would interlock and close so the sharp points were inserted into the opposite handle and avoid turning people into pin cushions. One day I noticed just such an item being offered in the store. Someone else had invented it too, but they brought it to market and I didn’t.

Another one of my inventions was a wheel mounted on a long handle for measuring distances on the ground. Lucky for surveyors and other people who need to measure land, someone else also had the idea.

When I was a boy I would see cars in front of us and wonder what we would do if they suddenly backed up. I felt that there should be some sort of signal or light to identify when a car was shifted into reverse. Lo and behold, as I got older and began to drive I found out that such an item already existed! It was invented in 1921 by an auto designer named Childe Wills (who also designed the fancy script logo for Ford). It remained as an accessory for many years until federal law made it mandatory in the 1960s.

So for years I took it for granted that I understood the impetus for the backup light. It is intended to allow people behind you to know what you’re doing just like a turn signal (introduced in 1920, but first imagined in 1916 as a glove with electric light bulbs so other drivers could see hand signals).

One evening, though, I truly had a light bulb moment. I had gone to a friend’s house for a simcha and the street on which he lives is very dark. As I was arriving, I had to turn around to face the correct way for parking in front of his house. To do so, I pulled ever-so-slightly into the driveway across the street, then put my car in reverse.

Something caught my eye in the backup camera and I realized that a woman and her toddler son were walking on the street. I stayed put until they passed, and suddenly it dawned on me that the light in the back might not only be so others know what I’m doing, but so that I might see behind me as I back up! Over 30 years of driving experience and I never realized that was its purpose!

In fact, in doing research for this article, I found out that Childe Wills had installed a rear bulb on a car he designed after backing into a fire hydrant and wanting to avoid it happening again. So, what I finally figured out after so much time was what was originally intended nearly a hundred years ago when the backup light was invented.

It also dawned on me that the Creator of the Universe is the greatest inventor of them all and He has His reasons for things. I may think I have it all figured out, and then one day I’ll have that flash of inspiration and be humbled that I didn’t see what was so obvious all along. When I think I came up with something on my own, I’ll find out that He built it into the world well before any of us thought of it.

I guess my light bulb moment was the one when I realized that when it comes to a lot of things I’m still in the dark, but that’s OK because Hashem is there to light the way and lighten our loads.

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz


Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz and follow him on Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF dvar Torah in English. E-mail [email protected] and put “Subscribe” in the subject.

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