I’d Like to Propose a Toast
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz, The Observant Jew
One morning, I put a slice of bread in the toaster and the funniest thing happened. I pushed the handle down but it popped straight back up and wouldn’t lock into place. Don’t worry, though, the toaster wasn’t broken. It was supposed to do that. It happens when the toaster is unplugged.
In the two seconds it took me to plug it in and push the bread down again, thoughts whizzed through my mind. Does the toaster use power to lock the bread in place? Is there some special reason it does?
Well, the short answer is yes, when the handle is pushed down, a circuit is completed and an electromagnetic locks the toasting cradle in place. When power flow is terminated, the springs are released and the toast pops up. If there’s no power, it doesn’t lock in place. But it wasn’t always this way.
Years ago, you could push the toaster handle down and it would lock in place even if it was unplugged. Many an old-timer can tell you of the time they pushed down the bread and came back twenty minutes later to find the handle still down and the toast still just bread!
Somewhere along the line the manufacturers added this special feature that makes the handle lock in place only when the toaster is plugged in. But why did they do that?
While they could very easily have just added a warning sticker to the toasters saying, “MAKE SURE UNIT IS PLUGGED IN!” that may not have solved the problem.
Quite often people aren’t thinking too much into their toast-making and will assume it is plugged in so all the warning labels and reminders don’t mean a thing. Therefore, the manufacturers chose to solve the problem of forgetting to plug in the toaster by showing the user that it won’t work any other way. The immediate pop-up also serves as a visual indication of what’s wrong. This is a great way of solving a problem because it doesn’t require more effort on the part of someone else, in this case, remembering the plug.
Have you ever seen cars driving down the road and swerving around a box in the middle of the street? Some people are alerted to do this by seeing the drivers ahead of them swerve and it makes them aware of the obstacle. However, the most helpful drivers are the ones who will actually stop their cars at the side of the road and remove the obstacle.
They understand that instead of telling someone they need to do something, it’s more effective to set up a way for it to happen on its own, or at least to remind them. For years, cigarette companies have put large warning signs on their products but consumers are not impressed. Sadly, teens still think it’s cool to smoke and ignore the warnings.
However, when a person lives with someone dying of lung cancer chas v’shalom, seeing the sores on their body, the hair loss, and the many other horrible effects of this dangerous habit, it has quite a different effect on them. As a woman I knew used to say, “Cancer cures smoking.”
As parents, teachers, peers, and friends, we often like to give advice to others. Sometimes they accept it and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we make the desired impact and sometimes we don’t. Most of the time, our words can get lost – unless we make the impression that acts as a reminder.
When we don’t just say things, but do them with conviction, we can create memories that will stick with people. When we recall how our father would invite people who were asking for tzedaka into the house and offer them a drink and some kind words besides for giving them a donation; or how our mother would wish the woman at the checkout line a cheery good morning, those memories pop up when we’re in similar situations and remind us to plug into the behavior we witnessed.
If we experience joy in Yiddishkeit with our families and friends, they will feel it themselves even when we’re not with them. If we look for the bright side of things, and find it again and again, others will too. But even if there’s no one else around, we can change the mechanics of how we look at the world and find ways to remind ourselves what’s right and good because that’s how we’ll get the best results.
I’d like to suggest that we try to go through life with the recognition and understanding that when we don’t do things as we were meant to, they simply don’t work out right. If we say things we shouldn’t we’ll come to regret it and wish we’d been silent. If we do things we shouldn’t, it could lead to us wishing we could undo them, which we can’t.
Like the toaster which won’t do its job if we don’t do ours, this world is a complex machine whose Manufacturer knows how to guide us in the right direction and keep us from getting burned. By paying attention and taking the right cues, our lives will be so much butter… er, I mean, better.
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