Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Running on Empty
When things run out, we try to replace them. In fact, in our home, we like to have the replacement there before the other item is empty. Well, the liquid soap was almost empty, so my dear wife suggested I bring up another bottle from the garage. We have a large one with a pump, which I refilled from the new bottle. Then, I stood the smaller one on its head, trying to get every last drop I could.
When I came back some time later, I was in for quite a surprise. The bottle, which had seemed basically empty after I transferred its contents to the larger one, now had at least another twenty-five percent of the soap collected at the top of the bottle.
All the soap from the sides had made its way down, and the amount I hadn’t considered noteworthy was significant, indeed. It got me to thinking about the things we miss and discount because they aren’t so noticeable. If I hadn’t tried to be frugal, I would have tossed away so much good product.
It reminded me of the time a friend introduced his little brother to the way we would get the mustard from the bottom of the bottle when we were in yeshivah. While turning it over and pounding the bottle might work somewhat, utilizing centrifugal force is much more effective. By taking the bottle in your hand and rotating your arm rapidly, the contents of the bottle are pulled towards the outside, meaning towards your fingers instead of your shoulder which is the center of the circle.
If you have the top of the bottle facing outward, the mustard gathers near the cap, and you can get much of it out on your next squeeze. The reason this was memorable was because his younger brother forgot to close the cap, and their kitchen was ringed with bright yellow mustard circles. But at least it worked!
The underlying message, though, is that when we think we have nothing left, there may be quite a lot still inside of us. The hidden strengths we have can surprise us, and especially others. That’s one reason not to write people off so quickly, because you never know what might be inside.
At a Shavuos meal many years ago, I asked the question, “What is the connection to Dovid Hamelech and bris milah?” Some of you may recall that when he went to the bathhouse he was comforted that he was not totally bereft of mitzvos because he had a bris, but that’s not what I was looking for.
My friends couldn’t come up with the answer but my wife, who at that time was my “new” wife, having only been married a couple of months, had the answer. She related the Midrash that when Dovid faced Golias, the “malach” of the stone he flung towards the giant’s armor had a conversation with the metal. “If you part and allow me through, I will give you the mitzvah of milah,” which had been performed with a sharp stone until that point. Afterwards, we began to use a knife, as the metal of the armor accepted its reward for opening and letting Golias be killed.
I’m not sure even she knew what she had in her, but everyone was certainly pleasantly surprised. And I’m sure all of us, at one point or another, have had the opportunity to be astonished by the strengths, compassionate feelings, or knowledge that was laying dormant inside us and suddenly presented itself.
This should be a very uplifting insight for us all. Sometimes we may feel dull, dreary, and sluggish. We may feel we’re completely spent and have nothing left. But the truth is, there’s so much hanging around the “sides of the bottle” that we still have much to offer even if we can’t see it at the moment.
When we put ourselves in good places and associate with good people, we will pick up many positive traits and bits of knowledge. It all adds up even if we don’t notice it directly and can’t see the slow, gradual growth. But it’s there, and the reality of it can come as a shock sometimes, in a very good way.
It is the same with others too. You may think you’ve seen all there is to see, but you’d be surprised if you began scraping the sides and collecting all the good they have inside. You’d see there was a lot in there and that they’re nowhere near empty like you think.
So, the next time you think you’ve seen all there is to see, and don’t expect much from yourself or someone else, take a cue from my friendly little bottle to clean up your act and be pleasantly surprised by how much good really remains.
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