Perashat Toledot 5780
Perashat Toledot 5780Saturday, November 30, 2019
The day after Thanksgiving has become a day synonymous with good deals, violent fights, and late-night shopping. Over roughly the last decade there have been 11 deaths and 108 injuries associated with frenzied shoppers and their dream purchases. But that is not why the day is called Black Friday. There seems to be a popular myth that the term was coined to indicate that these sales were the ones that propelled store owners and merchants from being “in the red” to being “in the black”. As romantic and hopeful as that notion is, it is untrue. Black Friday first appears in 1951 as a reference to workers' absences, too bloated from turkey, too inebriated from alcohol, or too insulted from the inevitable family fights to turn up to work the day after Thanksgiving. It surfaces again in the early sixties as a term describing the horrible post-holiday traffic. Which brings us to its shiny new usage, a term used to denote the massive markdowns designed to produce what is the single biggest day of shopping in the US calendar.
There is something fascinating about sales that somehow drive us to purchase things we don’t need. Who cares how cheaply you can acquire that which you didn't need in the first place? All you need to do to see this in action is watch me go to Costco. Inevitably I will return home with a “family pack” of 1000 boxes of cereal, a 100-gallon bottle of oil, a drum sized bottle of shampoo, or a bag of tortilla chips so big it took a forklift to place it in my cart. Dotted around the country are abandoned shopping carts in Costco parking lots with items too heavy or large to get into your car. No worries, come Black Friday, there are also massive sales on Range Rovers, passenger vans, or maybe an 18 wheeler. Issue sorted.
When Yitzhak decides to pass on his berakha, Ribka quickly tells Yaakob to run and play the part of his wayward conniving brother Esab, so that he would get the berakha in Esab's place. After some cooking, dressing, and acting, Yaakob immerges as the proud owner of those berakhot. The interesting thing is that by and large the physical blessing Yitzhak gave wasn’t something that matched the focus of Yaakob's existence. After all, Yaakob was a dweller of the tents of Torah. His father’s intended recipient was, in fact, Esab, who would have only wanted the types of things included in the blessing. So why swipe blessings he didn’t actually want? Even if the blessings were actually his by dint of his earlier purchase of the firstborn title from his elder brother, why did he want them?
The answer is actually quite instructive.
The world and all its riches are not inherently physical or spiritual things. It is the choices we make when we use them, that define how those things are seen. Yitzhak’s intention in giving the berakha to the wicked Esab was for him to manage the money, use what he needed, and share the rest with his pious brother, to ensure that Esab would have a small portion in the missvot of Yaakob. The problem was, Ribka understood there would never be a “the rest”. Whatever Esab would have would never suffice. To Esab, the purpose of the money was an end unto itself, amassing more and more would never be enough.
We find this premonition to be true in next week’s portion where Esab says, “I have a lot”, as opposed to Yaakob’s, “I have everything”. Yaakob’s dedication to even the smallest of vessels, worth pennies, even when he had “everything”, indicated this. The value of each thing in someone’s life is defined by its usefulness, not its price. If the vessels are usable, they are valuable; valuable enough to make a special trip back for them.
When we build this value system into our lives, it also helps us decide what to purchase and why. Training yourself, and your children, to ask three questions as well as using one simple strategy can really help.
1) Do I really need this?
What would I use it for? Do I already have something that adequately fulfills this need? If so, why buy it?
2) What other thing could I buy if I didn’t buy this?
Just the act of distracting yourself by thinking of other things that you want that cost the same amount can help get you out of the must-buy mode.
3) How much work does this item equal, and is it worth that amount?
For example, this laptop equals a full week's pay. Would I work for someone for a week if they gave me this gadget, those shoes or that suit as pay?
One strategy that I have used as well with some success is just waiting 24 hours. When the “urge to splurge” hits, don’t put it in the e-basket or save the bookmarked page. Just close it and leave the store. Tell yourself, "If I really need it, I can always come back tomorrow." This works so well because most impulse purchases are in-the-moment feelings governed by the day we had, the pictures on the walls, the buzz of the store or the hum of customers. Walking away for 24 hours is sometimes enough to walk away completely.
I remember once in my life waiting online for ages for the brand new iPad, the first that came out. There were long lines out the door of the shop, straight out into the mall! As I got to the desk and saw the many people waiting to buy this product, I distinctly remember the strangest thought creeping into my head, "What if they run out? I should totally buy TWO!" I didn’t. Thank God I asked myself, "Why in the world would I need two?" But the thought, ladies and gentlemen, crept into my mind. That’s how powerful the setting, the social reinforcement, and the imagined NEED can manifest.
Give yourself a bit of time, and usually the brain and logic join the party.
Rabbi Shlomo Farhi
May 29 2020
Sivan 6 5780