Friday, September 26, 2008

Shopping through life

I'll admit it publicly: I'm not a great shopper. Unless it's a bookshop, I'm itching to get out from the moment I arrive.

Pick 'n Pay Hypermarket in Norwood is the Jewish woman's shopping mecca- and a shopaphobe's nightmare. Certain times of year transform this normally hectic palace of purchase into chaos unleashed. Pre-Yom Tov is one of those times. Mix pre-Yom Tov with a public holiday plus end-of-month shopping and you have a recipe for bedlam.

My wife and I arrived, set on getting what we needed and getting out in record time. Our headlong thrust slowed to a crawl as we bumped into at least one friend/ congregant/ shiur-attendee per aisle. At one point I doubted we'd make it home in time for Rosh Hashanah.

Relief at seeing the tills looming ahead was also short-lived. Long lines snaked back into the store from each one of them and it seemed that nobody was moving (I figured that we'd at least have a minyan if we were still there by Yom Tov).

Fortunately, my personal Moshiach arrived in the nick of time in the form of the ever-jovial Rabbi Yehoshua Chaiton, who pulled his overflowing shopping cart alongside our twin trolleys.

"So," he began with a mischievous smile, "What's the Kabbalah of shopping?"

We had plenty of time to ruminate while on line, and we worked out that everything you need to learn about life, you could learn in a supermarket:

For a start, as the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) says, "You are born against your will". We have no option but to shop, the merchandise doesn't come to us of its own accord.

Once you're in the store, you wander through the aisles, selecting products and placing them in your cart. You may have the whole supermarket mapped out and follow a carefully planned route from the paper products to the freezer section. Or you might run haphazardly back and forth as you remember what you should have picked up three aisles earlier.

Some of us know where we're headed in life, others go in circles.

An interesting supermarket phenomenon is the way you keep bumping into the same people again and again as you go along.

Some people keep coming into our lives too- we don't always know why they keep appearing, and sometimes they even seem to get in the way.

Now, imagine coming from a small town with nothing more than a one-man convenience store and entering a supermarket for the first time. You'd stumble around wide-eyed at the variety and the sheer quantity of products. You may even be tempted to take "one of these" and "one of those" and pile your shopping cart high. You'd soon realise, though, that there's only so much your shopping cart can hold, and only so much you can use.

Life offers diverse experiences and opportunities, but nobody has it all. Take what you can handle and make a success of it, rather than trying to get everything.

As you meander through the rows of products, you might not find what you're looking for. Luckily, help is at hand. Look out for people wearing the store uniform and they will readily assist you. Just be sure to ask the store employees for advice and not the casual packers, who may look like they know what's what, but are really only familiar with one product.

Look around you and you'll find guides for life, people who know more than you do and can make your journey more pleasant and your goals more accessible.

Every once in a while you'll encounter friendly, yet persistent people who want to sell you an "amazing new product" you don't want and most likely don't need.

Avoid the candy-coated superficialities of life, regardless of how well they may be marketed, and stay focused on what you really want to achieve.

Any good store will warn you to buy frozen goods last and your common sense says do the same with eggs.

Living life to the fullest is about prioritizing right, so that the sensitive parts of living don't crack under the pressure, and so you can experience special moments while they last.

Once you've selected everything you need, it's time to check out. You can really have whatever you want from the shop, but you have to pay for it. At the till, you may decide you don't really need an item or realise that the advertised price was wrong and the bargain you thought you were getting is really no bargain. No problem, you can discard the unwanted items before you pay.

Rosh Hashanah is checkout time for the year. As we line up at the Supernal Till, it's time to reflect on this year's journey. Did we rush through the aisles, collecting stuff or did we stop to greet the friends we met en route? What have we loaded in our life's trolley? Do we really want to take all the things of last year with us or would we rather get rid of some of the poor choices we've made, while we still can?

There's little time left before the New Year, but it's still not too late to run back into the store and add one or two things to our cart. Another mitzvah or an extra prayer; a smile or a phone call.

It's closing time for 5768, time to get your shopping in order.

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