May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Sh’lach: The Grapes of Roth

Helen Roth rarely sent her husband Mark shopping for any groceries for the family. He often came home with the wrong items. Baking powder instead of baking soda. Coco Pebbles instead of Puffs. The wrong size garbage bags. Some days she was amazed that he was such a talented periodontist. How did he get through all those years of schooling, and how could he be such a talented surgeon and yet still buy iceberg lettuce instead of romaine? Sometimes she thought he did it on purpose just to torture her.

So it was obviously a desperate situation when Helen asked Mark to go to the fruit store. She was swamped at the accounting firm, and the Sternbachs were coming for seuda shlishit. She had all the tuna, egg salad and babaganoush she needed, but fruit was a must. And she needed avocados for the guacamole. She was famous for her ranch guacamole, and Marla and Shai would be expecting it. So it was Mark or nothing.

“You can count on me, Honey,” Mark said as he grabbed the keys to the Volvo and headed out to the store, but both knew this was a risky venture, and Helen did look a bit nervous as she handed him the shopping list. But Mark was confident, for he had an ace-in-the-hole.

As he parallel parked his car on Queen Anne Road, Mark scanned the shopping list.

4 avocados (not too ripe)

3 beefsteak tomatoes

1 red onion

1 honeydew melon

1 crenshaw melon

Strawberries, not too ripe!!

1 bag of grapes

1 bunch bananas

Assorted berries

Mark walked into Yossi’s Fruit Basket with a sense of confidence. For standing behind the counter was Yossi Perlman, his old rebbe from the Nachmanides School. Yossi had been a wonderful Chumash teacher, always finding an innovative way to bring a lesson home. But he retired from teaching in his fifties and opened the fruit store. Helen had probably expected Mark to go to Stop and Shop or the Bergenfield Farmer’s Market, but by going to Reb Yossele, he was sure to get the best produce. It was a bit more expensive, but it was worth every penny.


“Rabbi Perlman!”

“Please, please, here in my store I’m just a fruit macher, and you have to call me Yossi.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What was that?”

“O.K., Yossi.”

“So what can I get you today?”

“Well, I have a list of fruit that my wife gave me for Shabbat, and I need to get the best of everything.”

“Really! Nothing is too good for my former students. Let’s see this list.”

“Hmmmm. Doesn’t seem too difficult. Things are a bit slow right now, so I tell you what, I’ll help you fill the order myself.”

“Just what I was hoping for. My wife thinks I’m a bit shopping-challenged.”

“Mark my boy, today is your lucky day. And since this week is parshat Shlach, let’s start with the grapes.”

They walked over to the display of green grapes, and Mark picked up the largest grapes he could find.

“I remember what you taught us, Rab— er, Yossi. The spies in this week’s parsha brought home giant grapes so that they could show the beauty of the land. The biggest cluster they could find.”

Something in Yossi’s expression changed for just a second–a look of bewilderment, perhaps–but then it was gone, and his smile returned.

“Sure, Mark, the bigger the better. You can never get grapes too big. In fact, take this bag. They’re even bigger.”

“Wow! Those are big grapes! Thanks, Yossi, you’re the best.”

Rabbi Perlman and Mark went down the entire list, with Yossi picking out everything.

“You want the tomatoes to be blood red and a bit squooshey. That’s when they’re at their best.

“Melons should be rock hard, like a bowling ball. Here, roll it down the aisle and make sure there’s no give.

“The best strawberries have little black dots on them.

“Avocadoes are best when they’re dark green. And they should have the texture of a well used tennis ball, after a really long tennis match.

Yossi kept throwing out pearls about fruit and vegetable selection. Mark wished he had written down every word he said for the next time Helen sent him produce shopping, because now he knew there would be a next time.

Mark gladly paid for the order, barely looking at the bill. He drove home with a sense of giddiness and was thrilled to see Helen’s Honda already in the driveway. He rushed to the kitchen with all three bags and laid them out on the kitchen island with as much nonchalance as he could muster. Helen surveyed his order.


“Oh no.”

“How is this possible?”

It was only when she picked up the avocados that he thought she was truly going to lose it.

“Can you tell me about these, these, these MONSTROCITIES?”

“They’re dark green and soft like a tennis ball, like they’re supposed to be.”

Helen’s lips continued to move, but no words came from her throat. She scooped a grape from the giant cluster and handed it to Mark, and he popped it into his mouth.

It was flavorless.

“So bigger grapes aren’t always better?”

“You have to taste a grape to know its quality.”

Mark knew that tone of voice. It was the one Helen used when their seven year old flooded the bathroom. Car keys in hand, he scooped up his purchase and headed back to the fruit store.

Yossi was waiting at the door when he arrived. In his hands were three bags of produce, which appeared to be of superior quality to Mark’s relatively inexperienced eye.

“They’re all perfect. You can trust me this time.”

“But why?”

“Because you got the lesson of the meraglim completely backwards! They didn’t bring a giant bunch of grapes because they were trying to show the beauty of the land. Rashi says they brought a ridiculously large cluster to show how strange and unconquerable Israel was. That’s why Yehoshua and Calev, the two spies who brought a good report, brought nothing back with them. They knew that all the Israelites needed to conquer the land was faith in God.”

“And that’s why you tricked me?”

“Tricked is a strong word. I taught you a lesson. Now you’ll never forget the Rashi.”

Mark thought about it for a moment.

“That’s true.”

“And the new fruit I gave you is killer. And I threw in some unbelievable kiwi and starfruit that will bring your wife to tears. Tears of joy.”

“If you say so.”

“And Mark, be honest with me, do you really like produce shopping?”

“Not particularly.”

“Good news! You won’t be doing it again any time soon.”

Once again, Rabbi Perlman truly proved to be a masterful teacher.

By Dr. Larry Stiefel

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