The Observant Jew
The Great Shopping Cart Debate
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
It’s February again and time once more for National Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket month. It’s been some time since I wrote about people who don’t return their shopping carts after use and leave them instead in a parking spot or other place where they inconvenience others. I guess in honor of this lesser-known seasonal observance, I’ll revisit the topic.
Many of my readers will remember the children’s book, “The Pushcart War.” It won many awards and revolved around the story of the big bully truck companies who pushed around the small peddlers and damaged their pushcarts until they staged a revolt and flattened thousands of truck tires with pea shooters.
The Pushcart War may be a work of fiction, but the Great Shopping Cart Debate really happened. You see, even though I don’t write about it on a regular basis, I still notice when people don’t return their carts. I still pull into parking spaces only to find I must stop my car halfway into the space and get out to move the wagon from the front or side of the space so I can pull all the way in.
Well, not too long ago, I saw a scene unfold not only before my very eyes, but before the camera on my phone! I was pulling into a shopping strip and saw a cart slowly rolling towards the store. I could only surmise that the person in the van that was about to back up had pushed it too weakly to make it all the way to the store. As I watched, almost knowing what would happen, the driver began to back out, meticulously maneuvering around the cart which was now directly in her way.
Another car backing out had to move awkwardly to avoid hitting it as well, and a woman who emerged from the store and got about two feet from the wagon pulled herself back onto the curb. The video I took shows all three in proximity to the cart and then all three moving away, leaving the lone shopping cart sitting forlornly in the middle of the roadway.
I posted that video online and commented, “Why I write what I write.” Three people had a chance and a reason to move the cart yet none of the three did. I didn’t mean to make any grand statement with my video, other than to share the source of my exasperation. (I parked and then moved the wagon myself.)
That’s when the debate began. Someone commented on the video, “I think we have bigger problems than this.” Well, I hadn’t said this was the number one crisis affecting the Jewish People, only that this was something I’d taken note of. Then the commenter remarked, “This must be in New York; people are rude there.” He maintained his position that this was not a big issue, and certainly not one worth noticing or commenting on.
My devoted wife came to my defense, stating she’d seen it all over the place and that Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, thinking of others, was something we should train ourselves in, even through the seemingly small act of thinking of others by returning our carts.
You might think the Great Debate was over, but you’d be wrong! The commenter came back and said, “I stand strongly that maybe we need to concentrate on really really serious problems. Like children going off the derech, like the world killing Jews. So I appreciate [the] one shopping cart at a time philosophy, I just can’t relate.”
I reached out privately and asked why he had to comment that way. Did it bother him that I was making a comment on something? I pointed out to him that his comment could undermine my writing and perhaps cause damage to my parnasa, which is patent Lashon Hara. I further mentioned that when my wife got involved, his persistence could make her think people don’t respect me, causing a disruption of Shalom Bayis, and driving away the Shechina. Surely that was a sufficiently big problem to warrant silence on his part? He didn’t respond, but neither did he remove his comments.
I never said that this was the biggest problem in our society, but the truth is the same outlook that causes people to be focused on themselves is what causes them to do worse things, drives people away from Yiddishkeit, and inspires the nations to hate us. If we don’t have pity on each other, why would they have pity on us?
National Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket month was intended to keep store owners from losing money, but I think we could use it as a means to keep us from losing our humanity. Focusing on others would give us a good start to solving our other problems.
And, February is also National Boost Your Self-Esteem Month. I bet if we think of others and act purposefully in our behaviors, we’ll start to feel much better about the people we’re becoming. And that would truly be something to celebrate. ?
Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz and follow him on Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.