THE STUFF YOU CAN PICK UP AT COSTCO
By Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank
I got my flu shot the other day. Three doctors’ offices had no shots in stock, so I joined Costco. That probably sounds strange but Costco had the shots. It was only $18.00 a shot—a bargain!—though I was concerned that with their buy in bulk philosophy I’d have to get five shots. That concern proved unfounded. It turned out to be a good morning because since you had to wait in line for about two hours for the shot, I did some terrific shopping as Ellen stood in line holding my place.
El stood next to a lovely Catholic lady. With two hours to kill, they started talking about life and this woman reminisced about her very strict Catholic upbringing in Brooklyn. On Sunday, the family walked to church, her mother did no laundry, and following the big Sunday meal, dishes were saved to be washed on Monday morning. This lady grew up with a sense of Sabbath, and in many ways, it sounded like a traditional Shabbat.
El and I were both fascinated with this lady’s tale. As a child in my own family, we knew that Shabbat was a day when we would walk to synagogue, refrain from writing, cut no paper, do no laundry, save yard work for Sunday, etc. In later years, I would listen to sophisticated theologians and serious students of religion posit a God who didn’t care about such pious minutia. The contemporary God was one who read your heart, a cosmic cardiologist, who cared not for ritual but only the goodness of the individual soul. It was a powerful approach for all rationalists, but I couldn’t help think that there was something positive about all the negatives I had grown up with.
These days, I make regular announcements to our synagogue guests about not using cell phones, taking photographs, taking video, smoking—all actions that would violate the sanctity of Shabbat. We ask that no gifts be brought to the synagogue for the B’nei Mitzvah, especially checks, and that items not be brought into or taken out of the synagogue on Shabbat. In many cases, these people have never heard of such restrictions. They do not observe nor do they teach their children the meaning of the Sabbath. They live with no “no’s” in their lives.
The funny thing about this is that “no” is the very word most parents have greatest difficulty saying. It stands to reason. Although Shabbat is a day of rest and rejuvenation, it is also a day of a few cosmic no’s. God wants us to observe a few no’s on Shabbat, for example, no labor. When you grow up with a sense of “no,” especially the no’s that come from God, it’s much easier to say “no” to children who are acting out, misbehaving, or in some other way acting disrespectfully or irreverently. Much of Judaism is about creating a reverential attitude toward life and a grateful disposition. In order to reach that goal, you need a few no’s in your life.
After all my discount shopping at Costco, I figured I at least saved the cost of membership. What I didn’t expect was to meet this lovely Catholic woman, learn about the Sabbath from her, ponder the significance of “no,” and relate it to the challenges of modern-day parenting. Many have told me that the no’s of their Shabbat was a negative experience. I believe them! But my sense is that it is only a negative experience where the no’s are thoughtlessly or dogmatically enforced. Given the proper context of what the no’s are supposed to do—create holiness, form Sabbath, connect you with God, put the material world into the proper perspective, it seems to me that a few no’s in life could create a multitude of positive experiences. “No” before whom you stand. Wow—one flu shot at Costco and I felt great!
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