Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – In Perfect Harmony


Operation Inspiration


This column began, as so many others do, from a rather pedestrian experience I had. However, whenever something out of the ordinary happens, I try to learn a lesson from it. I mean, when things go as expected, I try to be appreciative of that as well, and perhaps wonder WHY that’s what Hashem made us expect, but we’ll save that for another day.

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What happened was that a store was having a sale on cans of soda that my family likes. You may call it pop, soft drinks, or even Coke, depending on where you’re from, but I wanted to make sure you didn’t imagine I was talking about seltzer.

The cans here come in a cardboard box of twelve, and in our refrigerator, we have a nifty Lucite holder which holds them in place until you’re ready to grab a cold one, and then they roll forward to be easy to reach. As I was filling the holder from the cardboard box, I noted that several cans were misshapen on the top. Most likely the cans were dropped at some point and sustained this damage.

I knew it wasn’t botulism by the way they were bent, but there was an issue. You see, since the top of the can near what would become the mouthpiece was pushed upwards, the stay-tab – that nifty little piece of metal which pivots to pierce the ‘widemouth’ version of the can – could no longer do its job. All I managed to do was get a sad little hole at the top, beneath the tab. I ended up pouring the contents into a cup with a little prodding and squeezing.

I thought to myself, “I wonder if the manufacturer would refund me for the case if I tell them it came damaged…” I could write to their consumer affairs office perhaps, and see if they would give me something, even some coupons for future purchases. But then I thought about it.

Did they do anything wrong? Probably not. Their quality control department would have found it if the cans had been that way at the bottling company. OK, so maybe I can go back to the store. But then, even if they would do something for me, is that correct? I mean, do we think they mishandled it? It is possible, but it’s just as likely that another customer picked up the case and it slipped from his hand. It fell on the floor hard enough to bend the can, but not at an angle that would tear the cardboard.

(My mother-in-law remembers being in a serious car crash years ago and one of the prominent thoughts that crossed her mind was, “My stockings didn’t even rip!”)

So, now, thanks to the clumsy customer, I have some cans that are less convenient than others. I can’t really blame the store for it, but do I need to blame anyone? The fact of the matter is that Hashem made me pick up this case of soda. I may not have known what was inside, but He did. So why did He let me take damaged goods? Was it a punishment?

Not necessarily. Sure, it was a bit of a nuisance, having to work around the defects in the product, but I managed just fine. And even if I hadn’t, how much would I have lost, forty or fifty cents? But I didn’t even do that as I was able to drink the contents of the can. Why should I bother myself to figure out how to complain about it?

In essence, it was a case of yissurim shel ahava, tribulations of love, those small things that intrude on our lives and, according to our Sages, reduce our “sin debt” in the next world. The classic example is reaching into your pocket to take out a quarter and pulling out a nickel instead. Oy vey! You have to put your hand in your pocket and try again. And by doing so, Hashem has just gifted you with atonement for some sins. It’s a pretty great trade-off if you ask me.

Now, sometimes, the challenges we face aren’t as trivial as this. They may be much more severe or dire, but the approach can be the same. Don’t waste your time looking for someone to blame. Don’t think of yourself as the victim who is owed something. Hashem knows exactly who you are and what you need, and He is behind everyone who does something for you or to you.

Instead, try to find a way to make the best of the situation and work around the difficulties as best you can. Everything that comes from Hashem is refreshing, so pause, and drink it in.

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