Monday, February 14, 2011

Buying Furniture, the Israeli Way

When Simcha's bed broke (the fifteen-year-old high riser frame finally gave out a while back) we knew that we'd have to buy furniture here. I'd been putting it off both for lack of time (there's no Sunday here), and also because I dread making significant purchases here, for a very simple reason: I always feel like I've been ripped off.
And, just as I expected, when we got to the store, there were no prices on anything. You just kind of have to rely on what the sales guy tells you. We found a bed we liked. He wanted 1,700 shekel. Couldn't he go down? Sorry, that's the sale price. We asked for a moment, and I expressed my frustration to Rena. She said, "Offer him 1,500 - take it or leave it."
I did just that. He took it, and rang up the sale. Mind you, I have no idea whether it was a decent price on a bed or not. Seems about right, but who knows?
Then, we had to wait for a few minutes while the storage guy came back (special for us) to load the bed onto the roof of our car. (Pay 250 shekel for delivery? Are you kidding?) The salesman - David (or Dudi, as his friends call him), did something I really didn't expect.
He told me a d'var Torah from the parshah.
To better explain my surprise, I need to paint the scene. Dudi is about forty-five, with a shaved head. Very professional looking, nice shirt and jeans. Gun in a holster at his hip. He struck me as a typical secular Israeli; nice guy, but not very religious.
And then he asks me: Why, in Parshat Ki Tisa, when the Torah tells us about the Tablets - the לוחות הברית, does the Torah spell the word לוחות without the letter "vav" - לוחת?
I checked, and he was right. The Torah tells us, (Shemot 32:16),
וְהַלֻּחֹת--מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלֹהִים, הֵמָּה; וְהַמִּכְתָּב, מִכְתַּב אֱלֹהִים הוּא--חָרוּת, עַל-הַלֻּחֹת
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
He took out a siddur and turned to Pirkei Avot - the sixth chapter, where the Mishnah reads:
אומר: "והלחת מעשה אלהים המה והמכתב מכתב אלהים הוא חרות על הלחת".
אל תקרא "חרות" אלא "חירות", שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה.
and it says, "And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables." Do not read [the word} as (charut) - "graven" - rather read the word as (cheirut) - freedom. For there is no free person like the one who immerses himself in the study of Torah
Dudi asked: Why is this in the sixth chapter of Avot? For the same reason that the letter vav (meaning 6) is missing: Because the Torah was teaching us that true freedom for the Jewish people would only come in the sixth millennium, which is now.
I don't know if I paid a good price for the bed. But the d'var Torah, which was clever, really lifted my spirits, not just for its own value, but because it reminded me that you can't judge a book - or a furniture salesman - by how he looks on the outside.