Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Even More Lessons from the Supermarket


Operation Inspiration

It has been a while since I’ve mentioned what was once a staple of my topic repertoire, the supermarket. There are so many opportunities to learn valuable lessons there because it’s a place where a great many people go and take care of their “mundane” needs.

Often this results in observations of human nature that are eye-opening. When people aren’t on their best behavior, and they don’t realize they’re being watched, you can tell a lot about the person they really are. Conversely, the people who are ALWAYS on their best behavior, also frequent the stores.

A great example would be the woman who walked around with a sweet smile on her face and she told me she practices it. Sometimes it’s hard to do, but it’s the right thing to do. [I agree. How often do we see people walking around with furrowed brows and pursed lips? It’s depressing to look at!]

Today, however, I won’t talk about taking too many items into the express lane, waiting until you’re all rung up before searching for your checkbook, or leaving your shopping cart in the spot next to you so no one can park there. Instead, I’ll speak about some things not directly people-related.

Ok, so let’s start with the plastic produce bags. You know, the ones that come in a big roll and you can’t get them open unless you lick your finger and thumb and use them to separate the sides. Ha! Not so fast! Now you’re (maybe? hopefully? grudgingly?) wearing a mask. You can’t lick your fingers. What to do?

Here’s a trick I learned. If you vigorously rub the two sides of the bag together, they split open. It’s as easy as that. Now you can put your potatoes or onions inside without needing to remove a mask or gross anyone out by licking your fingers. Just rub the outside of the bag between your hands and you’ll find that split which will enable you to open it.

As I did this one morning, I thought about the corresponding behavior of Mankind and lesson might be (I mean, who doesn’t?). We can be very close to others, almost to the point where you can’t find where one person ends and the other begins. However, when there is friction, and we start to rub each other the wrong way, a noticeable division can be seen. Once that happens, it’s easy for someone to get in the middle and pull them apart.

Looking at these flimsy produce bags, I realized that human beings can be just as fragile and easily manipulated. The lesson I took was that I should be careful about getting into conflicts with others and causing disagreements. We are meant to be united, not untied. Further, we have to realize that when we are pitted against each other, often it’s because someone wants to get their hands on (or into) something. If we can avoid the friction, we’ll keep the achdus that’s so important to our people.

Next lesson: When I walked into the supermarket that day, I was shocked at how crowded it was. Every line had three or four people waiting to check out and I was imagining the long wait I would have after I got my few items. Nevertheless, knowing that my wife needed what I was picking up, I forged ahead and shopped. Then the strangest thing happened.

It maybe took me five to seven minutes to collect the items on the list. [That’s another great life lesson: know what you need to do. Have a list, know what you want, and complete the tasks methodically.] When I went to check out, the lines were gone! There was no waiting and I had my choice of registers to use. What happened to everyone? I guess they were checked out and then they left.

Here I thought I was in for a long wait and instead I had a shorter wait than most times. What’s the lesson here? Don’t expect the worst in life. You may very well be pleasantly surprised and the bad thing you thought of will never materialize. Can you imagine? I almost turned around and walked out because it was so busy.

If I had, I would have had to go through the trouble of trying at a different time. My wife wouldn’t have what she needed when she needed it, and it may have been just as crowded when I returned. I might have experienced an even longer wait, unless, of course, I opted to try at another time. It would be a vicious cycle of worry and frustration. Instead, I persevered, accepted whatever Hashem would send my way, and He made it a breeze.

It’s easy to be negative and get bogged down thinking about all the things that might go wrong. The trick is to remember that they just as easily might not, and until they do, there’s no point in worrying about them.

These are two lessons from the supermarket, which are really one. If you don’t let yourself be fazed; if you don’t let things ruffle your feathers and you just take things as they come, you’ll find yourself living life in the express lane and quite satisfied with your shopping experience.

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