What Are You Doing In The Market?
By Menachem Ziegelboim

The following story took place at the end of Tishrei, eleven years ago, and is told by R’ Chaim Sonnenfeld:

Each week, I went to the main street of Givatayim in order to put on t’fillin with the store owners there. Along the two sides of the street are hundreds of stores, some of which are much busier than the others. Some have seven or eight customers over the course of many hours, while others are constantly busy.

Isaac Ansbacher’s store was average in this regard. He had a photography store, and many people came in to develop negatives or to pick them up. Some people brought their children in to have their portraits taken. Isaac stood behind the counter and tried to serve everybody courteously. Sometimes his store was packed, while other times it was empty.

Isaac was a Yekke who had moved to Eretz Yisroel from Germany before the war, when he was 12 years old. He was a tall man, broad and solidly built. He did not like religion, to say the least, but he never threw me out of his store, and that was no small accomplishment. Not only that, but I always brought him the Sichat HaShavua, and he never disposed of it in front of me.

You might ask, why did I bother to go to him? The answer is simple. We are trained by the Rebbe to know that no efforts go wasted. I knew that in the end, something would happen.

For quite some time, though, nothing happened. He always greeted me with indifference while I wished him "Shabbat shalom." Every so often I tried to get in an interesting vort on some Jewish topic. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not. He was polite enough not to cut me off, but never encouraging me to continue.

One day, I entered the store with a pair of t’fillin and some literature about the High Holidays in Tishrei. The store was empty, and I took the opportunity to tell him a mashal (parable) that I had heard somewhere. This is what I told him:

Many years ago, the small towns of Eastern Europe had a market fair once a month in which all household goods could be purchased. Since the towns were small and sparsely populated, they did not have stores, which is why once a month they got together and held a fair. Generally, the fair was held in a central town, and people flocked to it from all the surroundings towns and villages.

One time, Ploni went to the monthly fair. He took a large basket, filled his pocket with coins, and went to the fair early in the morning to buy fruits and vegetables, a calf, and a hen. His son needed shoes and his daughter needed a dress, and there were some other odds and ends that he had to buy.

When he arrived at the fair, he met his friends from the neighboring villages, who had also come to shop. How happy they were to meet each other. They slapped each other on the back, and promptly entered a little pub, where they ordered some drinks.

The fair teemed with people. Villagers circulated among the booths, and made their purchases. The merchants’ cries as they hawked their wares could be heard at a distance. Somebody reminded the carousing friends that it was already midday, and time was passing. They replied: It’s only noon. We still have the rest of the day to make our purchases.

The group of friends continued to sit there and drink. Hearing a commotion, they looked outside and saw that the sun was about to set. The merchants closed their booths and went home. Ploni was all in a tizzy. His pocket was full of money but his basket was empty! He tried to buy something, but it was too late.

He realized that the members of his household would have to wait until next month, and that in the interim they wouldn’t enjoy fruits and vegetables, new shoes and clothing, and certainly not meat. He went home and was ashamed to look his wife and children in the eye.

That’s the mashal, I told Isaac. The nimshal is a man’s life. We all come down to the market, that is, this world. The market is limited, as life is limited. We have money (love for the Creator) in our pocket in order to buy good things – t’fillin, mezuzos, t’filla b’tzibbur, brachos, etc. Sometimes, though, we veer from the path, and instead of making purchases we get involved in secondary things like work, a career, money, and play – all things which the body enjoys.

When you tell someone that half his life has passed and what will be with his connection to Hashem, he replies: Oh, I still have my life ahead of me; I can still do many mitzvos. But when he reaches the age of 65 and retires, he says: Wait just a while longer and I will get busy with serving my Creator. When he wants to change his way of life, it’s already too late. He’s old, and it’s hard to change old habits. Before he realizes it, the stores are closed and he has to return home. He stands before the Heavenly court with an empty basket, eyes lowered.

This is what I told Isaac, the man in the photography store. Incredibly, he didn’t just nod his head politely while wishing I would leave him alone; he actually took an interest in what I had said and began asking questions about the details of the mashal. I was amazed. What happened to make him interested all of a sudden? It was really strange.

When I visited him the following week, he took the initiative to ask me to continue the conversation of the week before about life and "filling the basket" before the stores close. I saw that it had captured his interest, his heart and soul.

Another week went by. I hoped that something inside him had stirred and that it would be easier to discuss Yiddishkeit with him. But the door was closed and there was a black sign which said: "We are sorry to inform you of the untimely death of Isaac Ansbacher."

Who knows what his soul felt during the final two weeks of his life?


Somebody reminded the carousing friends that it was already midday, and time was passing. They replied: It’s only noon. We still have the rest of the day to make our purchases...


Home | Contents | Archives | Interactive | Contact Chat | Advertise

©Copyright. No content may be reprinted without permission.