Thursday, January 7, 2010

V'Chol Maasecha BaSefer Nichtavim: Big Brother is Watching...What I Eat

Most of us Jews are aware of the fact that the High Holy-Days - Rosh HaShannah to Yom Kippur and on to Hoshanna Rabba - are designated for doing teshuva. Even non-observant Jews like Sandy Koufax knew that (kinda, sorta).

The more reverent among us know that there are other periods within the year that have special siginficance for teshuva. These would be the three weeks of mourning when we grieve the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and Sefiras HaOmer when we mourn the tragic deaths of the 24,000 students of Rabi Akiva. We associate these calamities to our shortcomings in interpersonal relationships, bein adam l'chaveiro - lashon hara, sinas chinam, zilzul chaveirim and chachamim - and resolve to work on them.

But for chareidim who actually live up to the title, and most notably the Chassidim, we are aware of another period. This is the period between the 10th of Teves and the beginning of Adar that we call the period of Shovavim - שובבים. This is now!

Shovavim stands for the six Torah portions that we are about to read:

שמות - וארא - בא - בשלח - יתרו - משפטים >> שובבי"ם

And it is based on the well known pasuk (Yirmiyahu 3:22): 
שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים אֶרְפָּה מְשׁוּבֹתֵיכֶם
Return (repent) you rebellious sons (shovavim), so that I may be healed from your repentance...

Shovavim is for a more personal level of Teshuva. It is more for rectifying the bein adam l'makom or, even more so, for bein adam l'atzmo, rectifying the damage that one has done to himself through his misdeeds.

In today's day and age, doing sins is easier than ever due to our affluence and advanced technology. Nevertheless, doing teshuva is also easier than ever due to our affluence and advanced technology.

How so?

Because today's technology helps us comprehend in physical terms that which 150 years ago was metaphysical and could only be envisaged and relegated to faith:

Big Daddy (HKBH) is Watching Us!

Of course, we have no clue as to what really goes on Upstairs (unless we see those clips about seances and clinical death) but Ravi Akiba clues us in that when the pasuk tells us:

את ה' אלוקיך תירא - the superfluous word, את , is telling us: את לרבות אחיך הגדול

Watch out for Big Brother!

We can guess what Big Daddy can do by knowing what Big Brother can do! And Big Brother can do a lot!

(Actually it is לרבות תלמידי חכמים and I am mixing 2 distinct chazals, but humor me on this one).

Now, if I tell you that Big Brother knows everything about us, the response may be: So, what else is new? or Where have I been?

Privacy issues have been in the headlines for decades. Even before today's high-tech era, there were issues of wire-tapping and disclosure of financial records. Of course, over the past few decades, things have mushroomed as we deal with digital recording, surveillance cameras (which seem to be cropping up in the most intimate of places), computer spyware that tracks your every keystroke, sophisticated satellite images (Google Earth), and we see tabloid reports of microscopic computer chips that can be embedded in everything a person touches, and then into the persons themselves.

Big Brother can know more about us than we can!

And all this should give us an idea of what goes on in the ethereal world! The world of which we are told (2000 years ago in Pirkei Avot 2:1): V'chol maasecha basefer nichtavim. And it should be enough to send us to the Kosel for 40 consecutive days of fasting and prayer - under the watchful eye of the Aish HaTorah 24-Hour webcam and untold other security appparatus!

Now, I am quite aware of all of this. And, like most of us, I have come to terms with it and have learned to conveniently "forget" the fact that Big Brother (Y"Sh) - and Big Daddy (B"H) - is watching every twitch. Yet, something happened this week as the period of Shovavim is ushered in that told me that there is no place to run.

It has reached the makolet!

Over the past 12+ years that we have lived in our little corner of Har Nof, we were blessed to be located in a spot with three makolets (small groceries) within comfortable walking distance. Of course, the one directly across the street is the most convenient - as well as the most overpriced - and so, it became the only one of the three in which I went so far as to maintain a charge account.

For the past 12 years the charge account was opened and handled exactly the way it was for the 12 years that preceeded it and the 12 years before that and before that and before that all the way back to the sugya of chenvani al pinkaso. I present a post-dated check and the grocer (Nissim) writes the amount onto a personalized index card. Every time we purchase, the items are totalled and the total amount is written into the next line in the card. When the money runs out, we present a new check. When the card runs out, the balance is transferred to a brand new card and the old one is destroyed. Thus, in due time, there is no trace of my previous card or of my previous money. Nobody knows what we bought or what we spent (nor which kid actually signed for and if he/she was really from my family or not) and nobody particularly cared. We have fulfilled mitzvas biur!

What a tradition!

Well, about a month and a half ago tragedy struck! After 25 years, Nissim (who has been 28 years old all this time) lost his lease (it was written on the back of an index card). The property was turned over to another experienced makoletan who until now ran a different makolet down the hill. It seems that he lost his lease as well since his rent was hiked and the only entity willing to pay the price is a bank. Now, it may be nice to finally have a bank in Har Nof, but it would have been much more practical ten years ago when there was some money in the neghborhood.

In any case, we were out of a makolet for six weeks while they renovated the facility and manged to find twice as much space in the same area (only in Israel...). I didn't have any charge accounts in the other 2 makolets and there was no point in opening one up for the 2 to 3 weeks that became six and I was at a total loss. How would I feed my family?

Presently, somebody saved my skin by explaining to me that there is such a thing as paper notes called bills and little metal disks that are called coins and that these items together are called cash and these makolets are very kind and they will allow me to by the basic necessities for these bits of cash and I didn't need post dated checks or palstic cards or anything!

What a country!

Finally, after six weeks of purgatory, the new makolet (now called "Supermarket") opend up across the street. I ran to make an accout and yearned to be from the assara rishonim.

I was number 11 (right before the Stillermans).

I approached with my checkbook ready to see my family name written onto a glossy white index card when I was jolted by a thunderbolt.

"We don't use index cards."


"Just swipe your credit card for the amount of credit you want and we put your name in the computer as customer number 11. Now whenever you buy, just tell us '11' and the computer will register the purchase."

Okay. Let's try it. I'll buy some bread and milk and a few other items.

Sure enough, I bought the bread and milk and other items and the new grocer (Avi) scanned it in. I tell him the magic number: "11". He pokes a few boxes on his touchscreen and - voila - out from the register rolls a tape of laser paper that tells me, and him, and anybody who is interested exactly what was bought, who bought it (Hirshman, customer #11), and when it was bought - date, hours, minutes and seconds!

And all this information is in my hand...and it is in his computer system. And as long as it is not deleted from his computer system, anybody who is interested (no pushing, please) can find out exactly what the Hirshman family has been eating, how much of it we ate, when we ate it, and how much it cost!

V'chol maasecha basefer nichtavim!

I think it would do my blood pressure wonders to take a pleasant stroll to one of those old fashioned not-as-close makolets.

And pay cash!


RANDOM GUY said...

WOW -- hard cover this week on sale at the shuls! Nice touch !

Yechezkel said...

Don't forget the quantity discount. Bring a friend!