One lucky evening in November, four energetic humans, one in a stroller, navigate the mall crowds intent on reaching their awesome destination- The Toy Store. Their one hundred dollar gift card waits, maybe with bated breath, wondering what the ecstatic children will choose from among the thousands of toys temptingly stocked upon the shelves.

Little Boy’s excitement and anxiety is palpable. He wants: A radio controlled helicopter, science kit (preferably containing a microscope and live insects) and Silly Putty, (a bouncing dough he saw in school and can’t stop talking about).

There’s too much and how can he know what he might enjoy in five days?

Little Girl is calm but determined. She simply wants: Any shiny pink package that includes a doll and its accessories. Although she does not know what the word ‘accessories’ means, she will persistently ignore the smaller doll boxes and firmly point to the oversized packages containing strollers, wardrobes, toy chests and of course dolls. Mommy makes a sensible plan to trek through the store and the little trio agree on the best way to choose their respective $33.33 cents worth of merchandise.

They have hardly finished surveying aisle one, the ‘nothing’ aisle with bored (board!) games and long flat boxes for children who forgot how to play with toys, when Little Boy has a brainstorm. Baby doesn’t need one third of the gift card since she’s hardly two and content playing with her pizza crust. So… his voice trails off, because he’s the oldest he should have the privilege of spending more than one third of the gift card. Understanding his logic, Mommy safely responds with “We’ll see.”

The family purposefully weaves in and out of the aisles, seeking that special find. Suddenly, Little Girl is beaming. She has discovered the doll she loves, complete with terry bathrobe, tub and rubber duck. The oversized box is precariously balanced above the handle part of the stroller.

They march on in pursuit of something perfect for Little Boy. This feat is not easily accomplished. A mini outburst of disappointment is displayed in the Science section as Mommy explains that the microscope, telescope, and make-your-own-volcano-kit are all somewhat impractical for various reasons and why don’t we just look at electronic toys.

Grumbling, Little Boy moves on to the electronic toys. Robots, chirping screens, and various geometric shapes, loudly burp and blink, some sounding especially forceful. One robot counts to ten which Little Boy can do quite well, thank you. One computer screen boasts languages from various countries. No way. We’re having a difficult time enough now just speaking English. Mommy tries to convince Little Boy to move on to the cars, trucks and planes. At this point he’s almost in tears. Not because he can’t find anything but because there’s too much and how can he know what he might enjoy in five days? What won’t get broken, lost, or dis-assembled by Baby?

Mommy is suggesting a practical toy, like Lego, which has many creative uses. Little Boy is not convinced. Now he’s just reminded himself of the Air Hog. Much like its name, it is a particularly offensive radio controlled plane which, as the instructions on the box warn, is to be kept away from children under eight and out of anyone’s face, (presumably because it tears through rooms, knocking down vases and chipping paint off walls). Mommy somewhat patiently explains this to Little Boy and then tries changing the subject by asking the clerk if the store carries Silly Putty.

The eager clerk returns with Nutty Putty. Packaged in a neon blue peanut shaped case, it is even more exciting than Silly Putty.

Baby is growing restless, Little Girl is exhausted, Mommy is trying to keep everyone calm for five more minutes, or until Little Boy finally finds What He Needs. They turn yet another corner. There it is. A car wash! Mommy helpfully adds that we can also buy cars and a highway mat. This package technically Baby is growing restless, Little Girl is exhausted, Mommy is trying to keep everyone calm counts as a “set” and finally satisfies Little Boy. The very last three minutes are spent selecting a toy mirror, Fisher Price people for baby plus an abacus for all.

The grand total equals one hundred dollars and six cents. Everybody heads home happy, until Little Boy wonders if he could buy the Air Hog for his Bar Mitzvah and why he must wait that long.

Toys R Us did not exist in the times of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, but the wisdom of the Baal Shem Tov certainly exists today- particularly in Toys R Us.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches: Everything that we experience can teach us a lesson in serving G‑d. In many ways, our world is like a gigantic Toys R Us. Each of us is born with the ‘one hundred dollar gift card’ of precious time. Lots of ‘toys’ around us seem special and exciting. We spend time and energy thinking, talking and worrying about them. Over time their attraction fades and we want something else that’s even shinier or flies faster- never mind the fact that it may whack us in the face!

Although my children are still small, I try to impart these important lessons by simply stating: “Toys are great but Torah and Mitzvos are treasures forever.” And this is why we always have to ask ourselves: Is what I am thinking about, speaking of, and doing now, helping me become closer to G‑d and my fellow Jew?

Because there’s lots of ‘nutty putty’ out there,we need to always remember the value of our one hundred dollar gift card!