Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar 5766 - March 29, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

New Improved World

By Bayla Gimmel

Recently, something spilled and created a bit of a mess on my kitchen floor. It was more than a paper towel could handle so I went to get a cloth to soak up the greasy liquid. "I know," I said out loud, "I'll get an old towel." I wanted something that wasn't in such great shape because I had a feeling that it would become permanently stained.

However, when I got to the linen cabinet, I was in for a surprise. I took out a towel that we had been given as a housewarming gift almost forty years ago. It certainly qualified as old, however, it is still in usable condition. The towels we bought ten years ago to bring with us when we moved to our apartment in Yerushalayim are also too good to ruin.

Ah. I found just the towel. It is one that relatives brought us a couple of years ago when they came to Eretz Yisroel for a family simchah. They gave us some bath towels, with hand towels and washcloths to match. There was a label sewn onto each towel that said they should be washed with like colors. I was glad I followed the directions because the colors "bled" into the wash water for a full year.

Shortly after the color finally stopped coming out, the hems of the towels began to unravel. Pretty soon, there was a profusion of threads coming out of the raw edges. At that point, the washcloths pretty much fell apart. One of the hand towels is now little more than a rag. As I said, it was just the right candidate for the "soak up the messy spill and dispose of" job.

Towels are not the only "new and improved" (read: disposable) item we have to contend with nowadays. When my oldest son was born, we lived in a New England city that boasted a factory that made high-quality baby layette items. Some of my friends who were on their fourth or fifth baby went to the factory outlet store and bought seconds.

Because we were just starting our family, we decided to buy our layette at a department store. We got first quality shirts, gowns and receiving blankets, all made by that local company. When we moved to California a year later, we took the layette with us, where it was used and enjoyed for the next twenty years.

By contrast, I have some baby clothing and receiving blankets that I bought recently to keep on hand for visiting grandchildren. It is a good thing that they are only used occasionally, because I think they would disintegrate with only a few months of serious use.

The baby carriage we used in the States lasted for most of my children and also three children of a neighbor. In all that time, the only thing that "went' and had to be replaced was a leather belt that was part of the suspension system. One of my sons has had three carriages already, in the ten years that he has been a father!

We enjoyed our first car for eleven years and then a neighbor who was handy with automotive tools bought it from us and used it for another fifteen. I don't know many people now whose cars are that old and still running.

Nothing that is made today is made to last. They call it "planned obsolescence." It means that when a product is designed, it is given a lifespan. If you use the longest, strongest cotton fibers to make a dishtowel, it will last for twenty years or longer. If you use cheap cotton, it will last from one Pesach to the next. The lifespan is built into the product.

We have a heavy-duty, stainless steel, covered frying pan that we received as a wedding gift over four decades ago. We bought one of my married children a soup pot made by the same company. It cracked after five years. The steel walls of the soup pot were not as strong as those of my frying pan. It wasn't designed to last.

It is sad that this is true of many articles of clothing, appliances, vehicles and other items upon whose reliability we have come to depend. However, fortunately, there is one commodity that has been lasting longer in recent years and that is people.

When the Chofetz Chaim lived to his mid-nineties, seventy years ago, that was proof positive that Shmiros Haloshon leads to lengthy years. My husband has a picture of his grandparents taken in the 1920s. It shows two people who were not just senior citizens; they were downright old. By counting back from the ages when they passed away a few years later, it is apparent that they were 57 and 58 years old when the picture was taken. Today, people in mid to late fifties are middle-aged. Many have children in high school.

During the 1970s, my in-laws celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. That was considered quite something. The happy couple received a letter from the president of the United States congratulating them on the special milestone. After all, the average man of that generation married in his mid-twenties and had a life span of six and a half decades. For both members of a couple to live long enough to be married for 50 years was remarkable. A chosson-kallah standing under the chupah today can hopefully look forward to a sixtieth anniversary — maybe even a seventy- fifth.

What can we learn from a world where people are living longer but their possessions deteriorate posthaste — right from the very second the proud owner walks away from the cashier's counter?

It gives us a wonderful chance to exercise our free will. We can either spend our years going from store to store, constantly renewing our stock of belongings, or we can learn to live with fewer material possessions.

Considering that after 120, we won't be able to take with us even one paperclip, the latter option would seem to be the obvious choice. However, the yetzer hora has been working overtime to lure us into the shopping district or the mall.

Check your mailbox. Every few days you will find a slick magazine that shows page after page of alluring ads. There are clothing boutiques, furniture stores, gourmet foods. You name it and it is there, portrayed in living color on a beautiful background.

Once you are in the spending mode, it doesn't stop there. After all of your closets are already stuffed, you can still find ways to spend money — lots of money. There are ads for vacation packages at hotels and resorts. You can get there in style with one of the rental cars or van services that are also advertised.

Once there, you can order spa treatments in between your trips to the dining room, the beach and the pool. If you would rather live it up at home, there are restaurants, caterers and fast food outlets right here in the city.

My husband and I have now reached retirement age in this new "improved" world. The youngest of our children is away at yeshiva. We like to visit our married children and enjoy our grandchildren. In between those outings, we spend most evenings quietly at home, him with a sefer and me with my knitting and a good Torah tape from a local tape library.

Depending on how you look at it, our lifestyle may be hopelessly behind the times, or, hopefully, we just may be on the cutting edge of the future.


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