I do not have a reputation as a handyman.
(People who know me might laugh at the obviousness of that first sentence. But I’m making a point.)
Despite my lack of skill in the handy arts, I did learn one thing during my time in Newport News. We had a heater and filter installed in the community mikvah, which was located in the back of the shul. The Mikvah’s filter was supposed to go on every day and stay on for many hours, to filter all the water in the mikvah daily. There was a handyman who installed the system, but he wasn’t very available for maintenance. So he taught me how to fix the filter when it would stop working.
It is called “priming” the filter.
I will purposely not look up the more accurately phrased definition of this because I want the explanation to be as authentic of a memory as possible.
Basically, the filter is just this machine, and a machine is basically something that spins and moves in a repetitive fashion as long as the power is there to keep it moving. As it moves, it pulls water from here and has it run through this bowl that has chlorine pellets and then come out on the other side.
Well sometimes, the switch would turn on, but it wouldn’t pull any water. The filter would be “broken”.
The handyman, Earl, told me that it wasn’t broken per se; it just needed to be “primed.” It needed something to get it to start drawing some water. Just open this tube here, and pour a cup of water into it. That helps the thing get started, and as it pulls on that first cup of water, it then grabs hold of and pulls on the water some more, and the whole circular system starts moving.
Circulation, movement of any kind, needs that first push to get the system started. I’m guessing that’s why the word is prime – which means “first”.
The Gemara records that Rabbi Eliezer would always give a coin to the poor before praying. The Chassidic works explain his strategy, which has been codified into halacha, along the same lines as the mechanics of priming a pump. If we want God to have His Goodness flow in our direction, we need to prime the pump. The giving has to start with us. Well, it doesn’t really have to start with us. It did start with God after all. But He set the world up to have us be the initiators. We do that by giving.
Then the vacuum, pump, cycle can get stronger and stronger.
It’s true that the most enduring form of giving is the fair trade, in which things are given in exchange for other things. It’s a pretty good system. Most of the time, it’s a practical way to go. But it’s not about the trade. It’s about the giving. A non-giving body of water soon becomes a fetid swamp. The flies buzz around etc.
Tachlich, one of the well-known symbols of Rosh Hashana, is about enduring rivers. Kings were coronated at rivers. Rivers keep on giving and keep on moving.
Our gifts prime the pump of the world.
Gifts of all kinds:
- Trinkets acquired at the dollar store,
- notes and cards,
- phone calls and texts,
- favors big and small,