Stories We Tell: The Spoonful of Oil

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

There was a young man who wanted to learn the secret of happiness. He sought out the advice of a wise man, who was too busy to talk with him at that moment but gave him a task: walk around and carry a spoon with two drops of oil and be careful to not let them spill. Listen to find out how this seemingly strange assignment taught the boy an important lesson.

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[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by For those of you that are regular listeners, you know that each week, we share a story to reflect on a bit through shabbat or through the rest of the week. As some other podcasts do, we're actually just about to take a little bit of a hiatus for just a few weeks to collect a few more stories. In the meantime, we'll be sharing some of our favorite stories that have already run. For those of you that have heard them, we think you'll like them again. And for those for whom they are new, we think you'll love them for the very first time.

This week, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, the director of congregational learning at Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois, shares the story of the spoonful of oil.

[Rabbi Phyllis Sommer] Once there was a young man, who wanted to learn the secret of happiness. And he heard that there was a wise man several days' journey away, and so he journeyed over to the man's house. And when he got there, he found that it was big and very beautiful and full of activity. And he came into the house, and he found the wise man, and he waited his turn.

And when he got to the front of the line, and he spoke to the man, he said, I'm here, because I hear that you can tell me the secret of happiness. And the wise man said, actually, I'm very busy today, and I don't have time right now to teach you that secret. But you know, in a couple hours, I'd like you to come back. So I want you to walk around my house and take a look around. There's many beautiful things to see here.

While you're doing it, I want to give you something to do, and he handed him a spoon. And he placed on the spoon two drops of oil. And the wise man said to the young man, while you're walking around my house, keep an eye on the oil. Don't let it come off the spoon. So the young man did as he was told. He walked up and down staircases, in and out of rooms, through gardens, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the drops of oil on the spoon, making sure that they didn't spill.

Two hours later, he came back to the room of the wise man, who greeted him and said, wasn't my house wonderful? Didn't you see so many great things? Did you see the tapestries and the great hall and my beautiful gardens? Did you see the books in my library, the ancient manuscripts? And the boy was a little embarrassed. He had to admit that he had walked around but only looked at the oil on the spoon. The man said, no, no, no, this can't be. You must see the marvels of my house. Then he handed him back the spoon with the oil and said, make sure you look at all of the wonderful things my house has to offer.

So the boy again walked all around the house, upstairs and downstairs, looking and marveling at the beautiful tapestries and the gardens and the books and seeing all that there was to see. And two hours later, he came back to the room of the wise man, and he looked down at the spoon and saw that the oil was gone. He was again embarrassed, but the wise man looked at him and said, I have just taught you the secret of happiness. It is to see and experience all that there is in the beauty of the world, and to keep the two drops of oil on the spoon.

[URJ Outro] After hearing the story, The Spoonful of Oil, I'm wondering how often you pay attention to all the things you need to. If you want to share that with us on social media, we'd love to hear about it. You can find us on, and on Twitter, our handle is @ReformJudaism.

Thanks for listening to the stories we tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes, and you can always find new episodes every Thursday on, where you can also go to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, our culture, or holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. Until next week, l'hitroat.