By Ben Druce
RRG Beit Midrash Chavruta
One of my favorite memories of Sunday mornings in New Jersey, and sometimes even on Shabbat afternoons, was the arrival of the famed “Sunday newspaper.” Anyone who grew up in America knows of the delights of the Sunday paper. The pictures and comics are in full bleed color, and there are many more sections than usual. The sports section in our local paper has the best writing on basketball on Sundays. And of course, the main reason for getting the Sunday paper – finding out what's on sale this week.
Sale (and even more so, clearance) is among the most important concepts in American culture. I don't think I've bought something at a regular price in the USA in the last 10 years, save for essential items like milk. Never mind that the sales are sometimes bogus and just make the item seem cheaper, there is a sense of recoil when one shops in America and doesn't come out of the store with a bargain.
Sale is ingrained in our culture, in our minds, in our attitude. If we think about how many times we are given a sale-related “stimulus,” be it an advertisement or the like, the numbers are staggering. We (I am speaking to Americans primarily) are walking sale-hunters, ready to wake up at 6AM the day after Thanksgiving or drive out to a rural outlet mall to get that 70% off we always wanted.
Sins against God – 40% off coupon, this limited time offer expires Monday at 6PM.”
The sale culture can seep into religious life as well. Consider our approach to the month of Tishrei. It is the month of repentance. We can sin for 362 days a year – and then plea, for 3 sincere days, to be written in the “book of life.” We don't deserve it, but we ask for it. We only have 60% of the merits to get into the book of life. The other 40% we get from the great deal that God is offering us. Is that really how it is?
Everything comes at an expense. Ask any economist, even me, what the real-world expense is of the consumer culture is in America - the answer is not a pleasing one. Divine Mercy, in the Jewish tradition, is the fact that we can live through the day – if we were judged instantly – then the second we had too many sins, we would get zapped. We have to fit into a system that's possible. Mercy, however, does not mean that we get a 40% off deal on our sins. We are judged for everything we do, good or bad, seen or unseen. We can't hire lawyers. We can't present coupons.
Paraphrasing Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerondi – who explains very simply the guiding principle of Teshuva - “one must look at themselves as they have a clean slate,” this is in order to be able to move forward and start doing things the right way without the weight of the past. But this is a method of motivation to get started on the process of change. It doesn't mean that we are all of a sudden given the free pass. If we always get the discount, we will never change. We have to change so that we ourselves are 40% better than the past (or 5 or 10 or 20%). Let us all merit this year in claiming that we changed ourselves, for the better, at full price.