My Issues With Tissues – Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz, Operation Inspiration

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Prologue: After many years of being an Observant Jew and taking note of things, I’ve decided to kick it up a notch and make it a conscious effort to look at things that happen and try to learn from them. Thus we launch: Operation Inspiration,  Eternal Lessons in Everyday Events.

  

 

I try to take everything in stride, knowing that it’s all part of HaShem’s plan, but sometimes you just have to say enough is enough. When you see something really annoying and frustrating you have to try to do something about it. Now, I don’t mean things like addressing foreign policy or other political matters because in most cases you’re not changing the government no matter how much you tell your friends your opinions.

I don’t even mean solving traffic and pollution issues, unless you happen to drive a couple of hundred cars a day and you can stop that. However, there are many things you do have under your control and it’s up to you to change them. Today, I want to discuss a scourge on our nation, a blight on our public spaces, and acts of subconscious heresy in our synagogues.

I’m talking about – Kleenex tissues.

Now, I’m not against tissues in any way, shape or form, though I will say that 1-ply tissues are probably someone’s idea of a joke. I haven’t been approached by the handkerchief lobby to promote that people go back to using actual squares of cloth to blow their noses, even if they have copper thread in them to kill bacteria. I like tissues, and I like Kleenex tissues. What I don’t like is what people do with them.

Yes, people do blow their noses, wipe their hands or spills and all sorts of things with tissues, and then they ball them up and leave them around for other people to have to deal with. This usually entails getting a bunch more tissues to wrap the first ones in so the picker-upper doesn’t contract Ebola or touch anything icky. The “put your dirty tissues in the garbage can” talk is not the one we’re having today though.

If you notice, I said my issue was with Kleenex tissues. That means brands like Puffs, or Aspen, or even Shoprite brand, are on safe ground, though I believe Kirkland might not be out of the woods on this one. What do I have against Kleenex? Absolutely nothing. They’re great and I like them. I especially like this neat feature they have on their boxes.

They have a wide opening covered with plastic, into which a small slit has been cut to allow for individual dispensing. This makes the tissues pop up so they’re more easily accessible, and protects the unused tissues from outside invasion (or at least that’s how it seems to me.)

The problem, though, is how often I see that people, wanting to get to the tissues, will TEAR OUT THE PLASTIC FILM! Oh the humanity! Why would you do that?! It is there for a reason! It may not happen in my home, but I frequently see it in shul or other public places (when they’re willing to put out more expensive tissues.) There will be a box on the table, half full, with the ragged and jagged remains of a once-pristine plastic film. It’s shocking, really.

I’m sure people rationalize that by removing the plastic film you can actually get your hand into the box to grab the tissues. But that’s what they’re trying to avoid! If the tissue dispensing mechanism fails, all you have to do is turn the box over, reach in through the slit and pull out a tissue as if it was the first time. This resets the device and you can continue to use it.

By ripping out the plastic you’ve removed the added protection and made things harder for yourself and others. No longer will tissues remain standing at the ready for the unanticipated sneeze and there’s no more guarantee that nobody’s germ-laden hand will deposit its payload on the interior of the box! Is that so difficult to understand?

Of course, I’m not merely kvetching about a tissue box. That’s annoying, and makes you wonder why people don’t see that they’re making things harder, but it’s merely a stepping-stone for my real focus. (Well, not totally – I still REALLY don’t like when people do it.)

The plastic film is there to help people but because they don’t understand it they just find it a nuisance so they try to shred it and get rid of it. Unfortunately, many people feel the same way about the Torah and mitzvos. Not that they actually say it or even consciously think it, but so many people look at the Torah as a list of stuff we HAVE to do or that we CAN’T do.

What they fail to realize is that the Torah, like the plastic film, is intended to make your life easier and better. It’s tailored to each situation to provide protection from outside influences and guide your actions. You don’t need to shove your arm down into the box of life, but just gingerly and effortlessly pull the contents out for your use.

Though people may see mitzvos as obstacles to their happiness, like they see the plastic as standing between them and their tissues, that’s because they don’t understand the ingenious nature of the simple mechanism. The Torah tells us how to operate for best results but we don’t give the Manufacturer full credit. We think we know better so we try to cut corners or ask, “Does it really matter if…?” But it does matter. If we don’t recognize it, it’s not the fault of anyone but ourselves for being impatient and possibly short-sighted.

So, the next time you think the Torah is “standing in your way” or you need a tissue which has fallen to the bottom of the box, please pause and take a moment to think calmly. Remember this article, and hopefully you won’t blow it.

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