When the Best Deal Isn’t a Bargain

Letting others know what a good deal one gets seems to be a ‘Jewish value,’ however, this must not come at the cost of being a light unto the nations.

On a recent trip to South Africa, a friend offered to take me to a most unusual African crafts store. Having already sampled the myriad of items available in local markets and from street vendors hawking their wares whenever the car stopped, I wondered what else would tempt me. The given was that my negotiating skills would be tested and that part of the satisfaction in the purchase would come from the contest of wills in getting the best price.

In fact, letting others know what a good deal one gets seems to be a “Jewish value.” After all, we live by the mantra, “Ani lo frier” (Hebrew for: I am not a sucker).

Rabbi holding Talmud

As I browsed the merchandise in the store, realizing that my friend was right, and the items were truly unique, I flipped over the bowl in my hand and suffered from sticker shock as I gazed down at the price. I was already calculating my negotiating strategy, when I paused to consider whether this was what I should do.

Here I was, a clearly recognizable observant Jew in a store run by Black Africans. It probably would be no surprise if I inquired about discounts and started a negotiation. But this was not the shuk (the market). The merchandise was handmade by people with an artistic sensibility.

And although I have an obligation to myself to preserve capital, I also have to be sensitive to others and the impression I make on them; to avoid at all costs a “Chilul Hashem” (desecration of G-d’s name).

I surveyed my options, knowing that the easy path would be just to put the bowl down, wander the store a bit more, and walk out the door, but something gave me pause.
My thoughts wandered to Florida where my wife, daughter and I lived for three years. Disneyworld was a favorite destination. During school breaks, the local community list would post a time and location to daven mincha (afternoon prayers).

On one such visit, a group gathered outside Cinderella’s Castle to pray. As they began, a woman took a picture, and her daughter asked her why she did this. The mother responded, “I want to remember that in the middle of a day of fun, these people stopped to acknowledge their G-d. “

It was a true moment of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name).

I knew that this was another opportunity to sanctify God's name, and bowl in hand, I looked further around the store, found two exquisite placemats, took the items to the counter and paid full retail. I had a very pleasant conversation with the cashier who admired my purchases. She then told me about the craftspeople that make the merchandise in the store. I may feel more comfortable in the shuk and I’d go broke if I paid such prices regularly, but I knew this was the right thing to do.

One component of the Jewish people’s mission statement is to be a light unto the nations. Fulfilling this precept requires that individuals pause, consider their options, and seize those opportunities continually presented to us for a Kiddush Hashem. May we all be so blessed.

Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is Managing Director of HaOhel Institutions in Jerusalem, now launching a new venture, Threshold, fostering Jewish Educational Entrepreneurship.