Somebody mentioned it to me, the new law here in Israel, about implementing a 10 agorot (2.5 cents) charge for plastic bags at the supermarket. I heard about it, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. That is, I didn’t pay attention until the first Monday that I went to the supermarket and the cashier asked me, “How many bags?”
“How many bags?”
“Um, I don’t know.” I looked around at the other customersIt made me stop and think
standing at the other checkout stands. They looked as uncertain and confused by
the question as I did.
I glanced at my groceries. How many bags would I actually need? What if I said one number and really needed more? Now that each bag cost money, could I get by with fewer bags than usual?
The cashier looked at me with an expression of, “Nu??!!”
Thank G‑d, it was only Monday and the supermarket was relatively empty. Imagine if I had to make such decisions on a Thursday, when it’s full of people buying their groceries for Shabbat. I could just imagine the lines and stares of annoyance as customers waited for each person to decide just how many bags they were going to use.
“How many bags? Hmmm. I’ll take 10.”
I paid and started to pack my groceries with my 10 bags that totaled one shekel (25 cents), making sure to optimize each bag’s capacity to hold and contain my purchased items.
A very interesting thing happened with this new law. The 10 agorot is a nominal fee, but all of a sudden, it made me stop and think—and not just about my bags.
Our sages teach us that that there are no excess words written in the Torah. Every word, even every letter, comes to teach us something.
I started to think about my words. My words. If I had to pay 10 agorot for each word, would I use them more carefully?
With this thought in mind, I watched my children playing. The 18-month-old and the 5-year-old were rolling on the couch tickling each other. It was a very cute site. Then the toddler began to bite his brother, though it was a playful bite. It wasn’t out of anger or with any intention to hurt or cause harm, but even in playfulness, a child should not be allowed to bite. I pulled my little one off his brother and was about to open my mouth with: “Shalom, nooooo, we don’t bite!”
But then, I stopped myself. Were these the words that I wanted to spend 10 agorot on? Was the message that I wanted to teach: Bite equals Mommy’s attention? King Solomon’s words ran through my head: “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
I held my little one’s hand and said: “Shalom, we kiss Asher [his brother].” And I gave my son a kiss on the cheek. “We do nice.” And I stroked Asher gently on his arm. My toddler started to kiss and stroke his brother gently. We (my other children who were watching the scene unfold) all started to clap and say: “Bravo!”
Were these the words that I wanted to purchase with my 10Were these the words I wanted to spend my 10 agorot on?
agorot: Play gently gets Mommy’s attention? Yes.
Later in the day, I gave a good look at my home; it was in such a state. I was about to open my mouth and exclaim: “This place is a mess!” But I stopped myself . . . 10 agorot. “Elana, pleasant words are as a honeycomb . . . ”
“Wow, I would love it if we could make our home a bit neater!”
“Neater” instead of “mess,” “speak quieter” instead of “stop yelling,” “Why don’t you rest?” instead of “You look so exhausted!”
In Hebrew, the root word of the verb to speak, ledaber is dvar, which also means “thing.” We acquire with our speech good things and bad things; we acquire and create things. Words we take for granted, but as the Torah teaches us, they certainly are not priceless. With proper speech, respectful speech, positive speech and holy speech, we purchase greatness that is sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
All this I learned for 10 agorot. What a bargain!