I was getting a coffee at Starbucks and had a conversation with a perfect stranger. We were trying on covers for our cups when he mentioned that the right size always seems to be missing. I replied that even when you find the right size it’s difficult to know whether you have tamped down all the edges and that there must be a lesson in this somewhere. After a moment I remarked, you must batten down the hatches—you never know when you’ll get burned.”
I got back to the car and shared this exchange with my wife. There is a sermon in this somewhere, she observed, and she was right. Here it is.
The Right Fit
The cover for the coffee cup determines just how much coffee will pour out when you tilt the cup. If the cover is too small or too big you will be greeted by a torrent of coffee. Not only will you be unable to drink – you will get burned.
In life finding the right size cover is crucial. Before you delve into any project, hobby, crusade or career you need to determine just how important it is in the context of your life. If it is a critical project and you don’t devote enough time to it, you will likely fail and regret it. If it is not an important project and you pour too much effort into it, you will drain time and energy from the important things in life leaving you off balance once again.
Gardening is important, but not as important as spending time with the kids. Social time with friends is important, but not as important as intimate time with your spouse. Making money is important, but not as important as keeping Shabbat. Pleasing ourselves and the people around us is important, but not as important as pleasing G-d. Every coffee cup, irrespective of its flavor or size, has a cover that fits it. Every endeavor, irrespective of its importance and composition, has a slot right for it. Keeping it in its slot is crucial to its success. Selecting a cover one size to large or small is a recipe for disaster.
Securing the Weak Links
Identifying the right size cover is only half the battle. The other half is fitting it to the cup correctly. This is where you must tamp down the edges to ensure it is snug. If even one end is loose, the coffee will burst out; not only will you lose your coffee you will end up scalded, soaked and stained.
The same holds true in life. Once you determine the relative value of your endeavor you must devote yourself to it fully within its allotted slot. Engaging in any endeavor with half a heart is waste of effort; you may as well not bother in the first place. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once asked his father in law, the former Rebbe, how he managed to fit so much into his short schedule. The Rebbe replied, you cannot add an hour to your day nor can you extend your night by an hour, but you can ensure that whatever you do receives your absolute attention so that for the duration of that task it is all you think of.
If you tamp down the edges and devote yourself exclusively to the task at hand you will succeed not only in your task, but in balancing it against your other priorities. If you try to accomplish too many things at the same time, if you do one thing while thinking of another, not only will neither get done, you will end up frustrated, discouraged and ultimately unsuccessful.
In Judaism, as in life, we never remain stagnant; we either move foreword or fall back. Every day, week, month and year, especially as the new year dawns, we must seek to continue our pattern of growth by finding a new Mitzvah or a new slot for Torah study to incorporate into our lives. But we must determine that the new resolution fits well with our existing commitments. It must offer just the right amount of tension; enough to nudge us forward, but not enough to fray our rope. Once we find the right pace of growth, we must batten down the hatches and move forward with zeal. Hesitant steps impede progress, aggressive steps jeopardize it. The path to progress is paved with deliberate steps rooted in forethought, optimism and cautious wisdom.
I must admit it was a productive visit to the coffee shop because while there I also got a lesson on how often coffee must be brewed to keep it fresh. Studies have shown that coffee remains fresh for up to sixty minutes, however, to maintain their edge, Starbucks brews fresh coffee every thirty minutes.
How true this is in life. The Torah instructs us to study every day. Though yesterday’s knowledge is not yet forgotten we must study again today. To maintain our edge, we must ensure that our Torah knowledge never grows stale. It must be fresh in our minds, vibrant in our hearts and sharp on our tongues.
One last feature of Starbucks is the joyous atmosphere. A happy customer, they tell me, is a willing customer and a willing customer is a repeat customer. The Torah too must be practiced with joy. A joyful Jew is a willing Jew and if we will it, there is little that cannot be accomplished.