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The Law of the Shopping Bag

The Law of the Shopping Bag


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!

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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M. Diane Flushing March 17, 2017

Still thinking about this and having recollections about my bubbly rambunctiousness. My father used to say to me: "Pipe down!" My mother used to say to me: "Simmer down." My maternal grandmother used to say to me: "Chicken merry, hawk is nigh." I suppose this is something I'm going to have to continue to work on although there is no doubt I have made significant progress. Reply

jimmie c boswell denver co 80218 March 17, 2017

so thinking of, something else. seeing the title, i was so hoping to finally understand a woman's law and rules for shopping. but alas i, guess some mysteries are not meant to be solved.
but the article, did make up for this by being very interesting point of view. Reply

Racheli Florida March 17, 2017

How Profound!!! BS"D

Thank you so much for sharing your profound epiphany, Elana! I, too, am a mother of many - and I think if I was to look at myself from the side, the way I speak with my children... I would not be proud of the woman I'd see. Being a mom isn't easy - we require nerves of steal, and constant self calming, self-teaching, self-regulating techniques. Thank you so much for sharing your story, wow, 10 agurot, who would have thought that we could learn from that! What an incredible way of looking at the world, Elana :) Kol Hakavod. I will definitely incorporate this in my parenting :)

Thank you again, and Shabbat Shalom! xoxo
I LOVE your articles BTW :)) Reply

Mordecai ben Moshe Solomon Florida via March 16, 2017

This piece of learned opinion made me calm and think how to make my life and others lives better, thank you. Reply

Yankeleh Gilead Thailand March 15, 2017

shopping bags When I saw the headline, the first thing that came to my mind was The Rebbe. Way back when I lived in New York City, I used to watch Channel 13, which always carried a farbrengin showing The Rebbe handing brown paper shopping bags filled with one Dollar bills to the shleechim for distribution. It's been what seems to me like a million y4ears ago, and so many events passed through my life these past 76 years, but somehow, the memory of Rebbe MMS remains at the forefront, clear as if it were this minute. Reply

M. Diane Flushing March 15, 2017

A good reminder, nicely put "With proper speech, respectful speech, positive speech and holy speech, we purchase greatness that is sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."
Nicely put, Elana.
In examining when my speech leaves something to be desired, it seems to be mostly when my sense of authentic inner joy and gratitude bubble over and the good intention underneath may not easily be appreciated by others. Some of that may be caused by solitariness = the lack of a Jewish friend. I Thank G-d for designing for us separate days, hours, minutes and seconds that can be use to start fresh. Reply

Melinda Kline NY March 15, 2017

words Can someone tell me if just talking to someone over feelings of issues in ones life be the same as negative words as in this story? Reply

Kimberly Yaple Erie March 15, 2017

Thank you, words are so important, may we all learn from this. Reply

Rae Somiah mclean March 15, 2017

Thank you soo much for this piece. Am learning even the power of my thoughts in this time. we are learning to choose our thoughts to conform to G-d's words. therefore for 25 cents am grateful to learn to be slow to answer and choose my words with love and respect for my fellow man. Reply

Anonymous March 15, 2017

beautifully written Very nice lesson Reply

Simone France March 14, 2017

My mouth is as plastic bag I carry from shopping and use for refuse? Yes? If I pay money for each word... Reply

jim dallas March 14, 2017

a nickle per bag... words, wrongly uttered, more costly! Reply