Torah Musings: Flask or Fuel: Do you have it in you?


Flask or Fuel: Do you have it in you?

Sarah Pachter

It’s neither Chanukah nor Purim, but as we’re traveling from one to the other, here is an idea that links the two:

One day, many years ago, I was racing around Manhattan from errand to errand on foot. The rain was pouring down even though I was in no mood to face the filth and stench of New York City street water.

While crossing the street, I came across a large, murky, brownish-green puddle. There was no other path to take to the other side of the street. Exhausted and short on time, I also couldn’t deal with wading through the muck, so I decided to try to leap over the puddle. Sure enough, I skipped over the whole thing and reached the curb.

But then I noted something interesting. The leap had energized me—my next few steps after the puddle more bounce to them. I was almost propelled into a run!

Sometimes, when we feel we have nothing left inside, we have to push forward anyway, and then we will discover we have much more energy than we realized.

Imagine how the Jewish people felt centuries ago when the Hellenists had ransacked the Temple. After the Maccabees won the war, we returned to the Beit Hamikdash, only to discover that there was just one flask of oil left. This would only be enough for the menorah to burn for one day. It would have been completely understandable if the Jews had responded with dejection and not lit it at all!

We knew we didn’t have enough, yet we used what we had left, and look what that led to! We’re still lighting our own menorahs, thousands of years later. That one flask of oil, and our willingness to try, created a domino effect that we are still celebrating centuries after.[1]

Sometimes we feel there is only a little bit of fuel left inside. We may not have much to give, but if we offer what we have, Hashem takes our efforts and does the rest. “Open up for me an opening like the eye of a needle, and in turn I will enlarge it to be an opening through which wagons can enter,” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:2).

But there is a caveat. There were many flasks of oil found throughout the Beit Hamikdash. However, in order to be used, the vessel had to be whole and filled with pure oil. These extra flasks had been rendered unusable because they were either broken or defiled.

The message is clear. Even if we have all the fuel in the world, if our vessel is not whole, shalem, we cannot give forth of ourselves.

My friend was once discussing an issue regarding her sister with me. Growing up, this sister had difficulties in school, and despite the fact that her parents devoted the majority of their time to this one child, nothing was ever enough for her. She was always insisting her parents did not love her. To this day, my friend describes her sibling as entitled, with an insatiable personality.

When your cup has a hole in it, it doesn’t matter how much you pour in—it will never fill up. If a cup is cracked, not only can it never be filled, but it can also never overflow to give forth. When your vessel has a hole, you can’t possibly fill up, and therefore you can’t feel the love pouring from another.

There is a famous phrase, “Ain kli machzik brachah ela ha’shalom,” meaning, “There is no vessel that fills with blessing like peace,” (Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta, Mishnah Oktzin Chapter 3). Shalom shares the same root as the word shalem, whole. When someone is whole—or has shalom—a person has the capacity to be filled with blessing. We must be whole within our own selves, and whole as part of the relationships in our lives.

Perhaps this is why we see the concept of vessels throughout the Torah: Our bodies are considered vessels, holding a soul or even another being (during pregnancy). The Talmud relates that Yaakov crossed back over the river to retrieve a few vessels he left on the other side.

The vessel is everything. Recognizing this is our most vital tool in maintaining emotional health, physical health, and harmony within our natural environment.

When I came home from the hospital after giving birth, the nurses gave me a 32-ounce water jug in order to help ensure I was drinking enough at home. I noticed that on the days when I walked around with this water bottle, I drank significantly more water than when I was using a standard 16-ounce bottle. I knew I was supposed to aim for eight cups of water a day, but the size of the vessel had a significant impact on how much I actually drank.

I realized then that whatever the size of our vessel is, that’s the amount we will consume. It’s not as much about how much fuel we have, but how big our hearts and vessels are that determine our ability to give and push through.

Although Chanukah has passed, the lesson still holds true as we transition into the next holiday, Purim. (Plus, I figure as long as Ralph’s is still playing Chanukah music, I can write about Chanukah lessons.) On Chanukah, we work on widening our vessels, ensuring they are whole, so when it’s time to give mishloach manot and tzedakah, we can pour forth wholeheartedly. Chanukah is about making sure the vessels are intact, so we can then fill them and on Purim, share with others.

Rabbi Eytan Feiner notes that on Chanukah, we spin the dreidel from the top, while on Purim, we spin the grogger from below. On Chanukah we were open vessels, receiving G-d’s miracle from above. We were undeserving of his outpouring, since most of the Jewish people had succumbed to Greek ideologies. On Purim, however, the miracle was stirred from below. We had to fast to bring forth G-d’s miracle, while Esther pushed herself, despite her uncertainty in her own abilities to save us.

On Chanukah, we are vessels receiving Hashem’s light, while on Purim, we mimic G-d through giving and tzedakah, causing that light we received on Chanukah to be spread forth eternally.

As our world keeps spinning, irrespective of our exhaustion level, we all have it “in us” to keep on going. The next time you feel low-energy or that you have little oil left, remember that, ultimately, you are a kli, a vessel, holding the greatest light of all—your soul. With this wholeness, even if we feel we have nothing to give, we truly can give anyway, and Hashem will respond exponentially.



[1] Source credit: Dvar Torah given by Dr. Dovi Prero