Friends of ours had bought our five-year old daughter a flowering plant. She was proud of having the responsibility to care for and tend to the plant. A few weeks later, I noticed that the plant was not looking too great. In fact, it looked to be on its last legs. “Atara, what’s going on with your plant?”, I asked. She held her hand to her tiny lips and said “Oops, I forgot to water it this week!” Perhaps I should have used the moment to explain to her the importance of plant care (me, the blackest of the black thumbs?!). Perhaps I should have stressed the character trait of responsibility. But, she was too cute and my cereal was too crunchy for me to take the moment to pass on that parental advice.
About a half hour later, Atara confidently walked up to me, Poland Spring water bottle in hand, and proudly exclaimed “Abba, I poured TWELVE bottles of water on my plant.” Then, she looked at me as if to say “That problem is solved” and confidently walked away to go about the business of coloring, jumping rope or some other activity of great importance. If I had thought she was cute earlier, now she was absolutely delicious. But I knew at that moment that if the plant previously had any remaining chance of survival, it had just been, quite literally, washed out.
Here we stand, before another Yom Kippur. Another year where we, humans that we are, failed to take proper care of our souls and the responsibilities entrusted to us by Hashem. Our souls are thirsty and weak because we have failed to diligently and properly water them throughout the year (and you thought a one day fast was difficult!). We realize our mistakes, we regret our mistakes, we verbalize our mistakes and we resolve to rectify our mistakes. But all too often we attempt to slake our thirsting souls with bottles and bottles of water in a well meaning attempt to make up for the long drought. “I didn’t properly set aside time to learn torah last year, an hour a week is just not enough. This year, I’m going to learn daf yomi, mishna yomi, mishnah berurah yomi, hey, I may even invent a new “yomi” and learn that as well!”
On the surface, it makes sense. We are thirsty and we realize that we should have been drinking all along. But we simply cannot handle all of that water all at once. Overwatering kills more plants than any other cause. We are just setting ourselves up for failure.
What we really need is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation was developed and perfected in Israel. It is the slow, steady application of water directly to the plant’s root zone where the water is most urgently needed. Drip irrigation minimizes water loss and prevents overwatering which eventually chokes off roots and kills the plant. If I’ve realized that an hour a week of learning is not enough, this year I’m going to start learning an extra half an hour a week. After a few months of consistency, after the roots have gotten stronger, they may require a little more water, another fifteen minutes perhaps. And don’t kid yourself into thinking that a drop at a time cannot develop sea changes. Remember the story of Rabbi Akiva who had observed a hole cut clean through a rock, the hole having been formed by the continual dripping of water.
Throughout Selichos and the Yom Kippur service we echo the words of the navi Yezekiel’s promise from Hashem: “I will sprinkle upon you pure waters and you will become purified.” As Hashem does his sprinkling, let us do our own sprinkling: little by little, drop by drop, Spiritual Drip Irrigation. Gemar chasima tovah.