Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Using Your Cup


Operation Inspiration


The Yiddish-English phrase, “use your kop,” literally, “use your head,” means to stop and think. Don’t make rash decisions. Reflect on what you are looking at and come to an intelligent conclusion.

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This is the basis of the ever-popular conundrum, “Is the cup half-full or half-empty?” There are many ways to look at this, with the basic premise being that if the cup is half-full, you’re an optimist, grateful for what you have. Good choice. If the cup is half-empty, you’re being a pessimist, looking at what’s missing, which is never fun, and probably a poor choice.

Surprisingly to many, how you look at it is truly a choice. What you focus on changes your perspective and a grateful attitude has been proven to provide more happiness than one in which you focus on what you lack. By choosing to be happy and look positively at things, you will experience more satisfaction in life, even if you currently take some twisted, misguided pleasure in complaining and being miserable. (The pleasure we get in complaining comes from imagining that people will feel bad for us and make up for what we’re missing. Ironically, it actually drives people away from us. You’re welcome.)

There are those who think about the half-full/half-empty question with even more cleverness. The cup is completely full, they might say. Half with water and half with air, definitely a wonderful commodity. Even if it can’t quench your thirst, when you have no air to breathe, it won’t matter for long how thirsty you are. So, yeah, that cup is full of good stuff.

I’m sure you can find many more witty and wise responses to the question, but today I have another question for you. One that even precedes the full/empty one. Ready?

Who says a full cup is a good thing? That’s right. I said it. Who says having a full cup is good?

Yes, we speak of being showered with blessing and saying, “My cup runneth over,” a phrase from Tehillim (23:5). In Mizmor L’Dovid, Dovid Hamelech says, “Kosi r’vaya,” which is often translated as overflowing, but doesn’t mean what people think it means. It actually means “my cup is always satisfying,” and the meforshim explain it means that the one who drinks from it is satisfied, and as we said before, the satisfaction may not come from abundance, but from lack of want. It comes from relying on Hashem and what He provides as being sufficient to satisfy us.

Not only that, but I have a radical suggestion. I’d like to suggest that having a full cup is not necessarily a good thing. Let me give you an example. When I was visiting Israel, we rented an apartment close to the shuk at Machana Yehuda. My wife wanted to try a certain juice she’d heard about so when I went to that shop I ordered a bottle.

Little did I know that they don’t sell it in bottles. They sell it in cups. Oh, did I mention they don’t have lids? I wracked my brain. How am I supposed to walk back to our apartment holding bags and a full cup? It was going to spill and I’d end up with much less than I’d paid for, not to mention the fact that it would be difficult to carry and I’d probably get myself dirty.

I looked around for a store where I could buy a bottle of water to spill out and then transfer the juice, but I couldn’t find one. What was I to do?

Finally, I asked the cashier for an empty cup. I poured half the juice into it. Now, I put the bags over my arms and held a half-full cup of juice in each hand. It wasn’t the most comfortable walk, and I had to do a bit of reorganization when I got to the building doors, but I made it. And I realized that having a full cup isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Sure, when you’re sitting calmly at a table and the cup is resting on a flat surface, you’d like to see it full. But when your hot coffee is spilling down your hand because you’re running to catch a train or trying to get into your car and the lid isn’t on tightly, it’s not such a blessing.

And that’s when I realized that the answer to the question isn’t, “Half-full,” or even “half-empty.” It’s, “My cup is as full as the Ribono Shel Olam knows it should be for my present situation.” Our cup, like Dovid HaMelech’s, is ‘revaya,’ satisfying. If we’re not satisfied, it isn’t the fault of the contents of our lives, but maybe the fact that we don’t realize how perfectly everything is working for what we need.

Sure, we could always want more, but what if that turned out to be what burned you? What if it made a mess and got wasted? The full cup presents as many challenges as the half-full one, if not more.

So the next time you’re faced with a situation and you feel like you’re missing out, remind yourself that Hashem’s cup is always refreshing. Drink it in and think, “Aaaaah. Just what I needed!”


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