Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | November 17, 2014

Running on Empty

gasolineFriends of mine have told me that they never let the gas tanks in their cars go below half a tank. First of all, that way you’re never left stranded if you go on a trip and the gas station you were planning to go to is closed, or there’s a power outage, or something like that, and secondly, they say the gas tank builds up a certain amount of sediment and keeping the tank full keeps it from getting into your engine.

As for me, I applaud that way of thinking, but with gas prices as high as they have been in recent years, I’ve frequently managed to wind up on near-empty thinking that soon I’ll be in New Jersey where gas is cheaper than in Monsey, or something to that effect. Then, I have to put something in the tank to get me going, and it’s usually more than if I’d planned ahead.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to fill up frequently, even before getting to a half a tank. What changed?  Well, gas prices have been dropping, and I’ve found myself in New Jersey (the state line isn’t far from Monsey) a number of times.  It seems that the opportunities were there, and the excitement of getting a good deal on the gas, now nearly a dollar less than a few months ago, has made me giddy at the prospect of filling up even a little. The fact that the price-gouging gas stations near my house remain at the highest prices in the area make it even sweeter to fill up south of the border.

As I headed home one day after topping off, I thought about the change in my behavior. Whereas previously I had dreaded filling up, I now felt excited to be doing it. It made me think about life in a more global way.

Each day, we fill our own spiritual tanks with Tefila, Torah, and Mitzvos. Sometimes we’re getting super premium, and sometimes we’re getting watered-down no-name gas. Sometimes, of course, we don’t really take the time to fill our tanks, maybe we spill and waste some, and we get stuck running on empty. Unfortunately, when we do that, the dirt and gunk that were sitting in the bottom of the tank get into our engines and we find ourselves even less energized or inclined to fill up properly.

When our spiritual tanks are running on fumes, the influence of the world around us that beckons us to chase things that are truly not important can take hold, and we may find ourselves stalled, or worse, headed in the wrong direction.

However, if we recognize that the mitzvos we can do, the Torah that we can study, and the prayers we can offer, are a bargain, maybe we can change our attitudes. When I fill up my car at a low price, I am excited. I feel like I’ve outsmarted someone. I don’t know who, but it doesn’t matter. I feel like I’ve won by not paying more at the pump than I had to. If I knew that prices were going to go up, or that New Jersey was changing its pricing, you can bet I’d keep that tank filled all the time so that when the time came, at least I’d have the full tank. What if I knew that prices weren’t just going up, but that there would be rationing or a shortage? I bet I’d buy some gas containers and fill them up too.

Well, one day, the chance to do Mitzvos and study Torah, even to offer a prayer, will go away. When we leave this Earth all we’ve got is the gas we’ve put in the tank. Yes, maybe our children can send us some gas, but that’s a lot more involved and “expensive” than doing it ourselves. Right now it’s a bargain.

Torah is free, Mitzvos are cheap, and Tefilos cost us nothing. We can and should keep filling up constantly because we never know when the gas station will close. We should be excited by the deal we’ve got going, and keep topping off. Trust me, you never want to get to the end of the road and be running on empty.


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