Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Be a Prepper

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Operation Inspiration

In a drug store recently, a magazine caught my eye while I was waiting in line. The name of it was “Prepper,” and from what I could tell by my brief glance, it was geared towards people who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it, (also referred to as: TEOTWAWKI.) Preppers are people who plan, prepare, and gain skills, in order to survive when things go kaploowie.

In the 1950s, preppers were the ones building fallout shelters in case of nuclear Armageddon, and loading them up with twenty-five years’ worth of canned food and other non-perishables. In more recent times, they’re the people who are able to live “off the grid” and who have sources of energy and water that can be used even in the event of a major natural or man-made disaster.

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During the COVID pandemic, amateur preppers were the people who stocked up on things like Clorox wipes and toilet paper. When I was in a store trying to buy Clorox wipes, and the frum couple who got to the shelf two seconds before me cleared all twelve containers, leaving none for me, they were prepping. When I opened closets and cubby holes in my home and found toilet paper, even into 2024, I knew my wife had been prepping.

Well, I may not know how to light a fire without a stove, grow my own organic produce using rotten fruit and a plastic bag, or pick up radio signals with a Swiss Army knife, but recently I realized that I’m also a prepper.

I had gotten a package of ten boxes of tissues from a wholesale club and was stocking them on the shelves in my garage. Before I put them down, I was pulling off the cardboard cover of each to reveal the plastic where the tissues come out of, and pressing my fingers into the perforated slit of the plastic to open it completely. It struck me that most people probably don’t do that when they put tissues in their garage. Why was I doing it?

Anyone who is reading this can probably answer that questions. Obviously, I was preparing them for Shabbos use. If you finish a box of tissues on Shabbos you can’t simply grab a closed box and tear off the cardboard circle protecting the opening. You’d be tearing, making the box into a usable dispenser, and other Shabbos no-no’s. If you want to have tissues on Shabbos, you’ve got to prep beforehand.

In fact, Chazal advise us all to become preppers in this way. The expression, “He who prepares on Erev Shabbos shall eat on Shabbos,” can be explained very pragmatically as I just did. If you want hot food on Shabbos, you’ve got to prepare your cholent beforehand, cook it, and keep it warm in a permissible way. On Shabbos you won’t have the chance to cook food, and that’s what the preppers of the world think. If there’s no power plants operating, no trucking companies moving goods, or anything similar, what will you do? But these preppers are short-sighted.

You see, they’re only concerned with the few years of life they have on this planet. We, as Jews, are preppers for a much longer future, one that is not just a potential need, but certain to occur. There may never be a nuclear holocaust or EMP that shuts down the power grid, but one day, we will all leave this world and enter the next. All we will have is what we prepared while we were here.

Mesilas Yesharim compares this world to the dry land and Olam Haba to a sea voyage. We will only have on the ship what we packed along in advance. Once you’re on the ocean, there’s no way to buy things to sustain yourself. In order to “live” in Olam Haba, you need a full complement of Torah and mitzvos. If you really planned well, you’ll set up subscriptions to keep having deliveries made to you. No, they aren’t coming from Amazon. The recurring merits are the fruits of the seeds you planted here during your lifetime. If you raised a family or influenced others in a positive way, and they do good things, those are dividends you’ll keep receiving, and that will keep you better supplied. But you need to be preparing in advance.

We’re now in the time of counting the Omer. As we count up the days, we recognize we’re getting closer to something big, and that we need to prep for it before it arrives. The forty-eight ways to acquire Torah are much harder to do in a single day. That’s why we have time now, so we’re thinking ahead and doing what we can ahead of time.

Think of the people in your life who get this. The ones who spend their time in Torah and mitzvos, collecting chesed and zechusim which will sustain them in the days ahead, when there will be no chances to “earn points,” are just like those people stockpiling their bunkers for a day which may never come, only better, because we know it’s inevitable. That’s valuable knowledge to have, and should inspire us all to prepare for the next world.

To paraphrase an old ad jingle: I’m a prepper; he’s a prepper; she’s a prepper; we’re all preppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a prepper too?

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