In October of 2018 a new store opened in the Santa Monica Place mall, the kind of shopping center where you can find a lot of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, and Tiffany & Co, and not a lot of Old Navy, Children’s Place, or TJ Maxx. The new store, called Palessi, was a pricey shoe store that took over an Armani Exchange that had closed a few months earlier.
After days of secretive renovations, the new store opened with a bang. The design was minimalist chic; bright white walls and beautiful sparse glass shelving, spot lighting, and avant-garde sculptures sprinkled throughout the store. There was a mini fashion runway lined with stilettos, a steampunk style custom made cash register, and a huge Roman style golden statue of an angel dominating the center.
The salespeople were specially trained models, dressed in all black designer clothing. On opening day, champagne flowed, as social media influencers and designers who received exclusive invitations crowded into the store in front of camera crews who had been hired just for the special event.
It was love at first sight. The customers loved the design and feel of the shoes. As the Washington Post Reported, here were some of the comments:
“Palessi is just such high quality, high fashion, taking your shoe game up to the next level,” said one man wearing spiked necklaces, holding a knee-high boot. “It looks really well made.”
“It’s just stunning. Elegant, sophisticated and versatile,” said a woman, as she held a pair of floral stiletto heels.
“I would pay $400, $500. People are going to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amazing,’ ” a woman said as she tried on a pair of bright-gold sneakers with leopard prints.
“For me to experience this as an Italian designer is amazing,” said another man with an accent.
The shoes were not cheap, the least expensive was above $200, and from there the prices climbed to $1800. But no one seemed bothered by the price tags, they weren’t shopping at Payless after all, these were people who knew what good shoes go for and they were ready to pay $600 or more for shoes that would tell the world who they were.
The problem is that they were shopping at Payless. The whole Palessi store was just a stunt by a marketing firm to show that people would pay a lot more for Payless shoes if only they were marketed as more expensive shoes. Every shoe in the store was a shoe readily available in Payless stores across the nation, with only two changes, a Palessi label was put on top of the regular Payless brand label, and the price was jacked up from $20-$40 to $200- $1800.
As soon as the customers paid for their items they were directed to the back of the store where the ruse was revealed to them, when the Payless team simply pulled off the Palessi label, and revealed the true Payless label. Panic, horror, and humiliation were only a few of the emotions painted on the faces of the people who just realized that they spent $645 on a $20 Payless shoe. To show their appreciation, Payless gave them back their money and let them keep their shoes, but undoubtedly, this experience was the cause of many therapy sessions, working on overcoming the trauma of buying Payless at Paymore prices.
Humanity has been easily fooled by the outside appearance of products since humans have been around. From oil merchants diluting their olive oil with lesser oils 2000 years ago in the Levant, to bakers diluting their bread with chalk, potatoes, rice, and alum in Victorian London, people have always schemed and endeavored to get customers to see their products for what they were not. Today, counterfeiting is the largest criminal enterprise in the world, larger than the drug trade or human trafficking, with some estimates putting the total expected trade in counterfeiting in 2022 to be over 3 trillion dollars, a number larger than the entire gross domestic product of all but four countries.
The counterfeit items include the obvious categories; designer shoes, handbags, clothing and watches, but today includes aged whiskies, perfumes, toys, jewelry, software, and even more seriously medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. In one year, China shut down 22 fake Apple stores. The employees wore the Apple blue shirt and they actually believed they were working for Apple, but it was really just a sophisticated crime syndicate. While counterfeiting may look like a victimless crime, people die every year from counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and in 2013 a 23 year old Chinese flight attendant was electrocuted by a face Apple charger. The world is filled with consumers being fooled every day into buying things that look good and glamorous, causing them to Paymore for what they should be staying far away from.
If you want to trace the roots of this phenomenon to its earliest source, we need to go back to the first human beings, Adam and Eve. They were in a garden filled with amazing trees of all kinds; delicious, nutritious, and life sustaining. But there was one tree in this garden that was counterfeit, it looked really good, but it was poisonous and would introduce death and darkness to humanity. And why did Eve eat of it?
“And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis, 3:6)
Eve saw that it looked good, she saw what it looked like on the outside but not what it truly was. And ever since then, every single time we make a bad choice, we are choosing to follow what something looks like, not what it is. We think we’ll be popular if we say certain things, we think we’ll look better if we wear certain things, we think we’ll be happier if we entertain ourselves with certain things, we think we’ll appear strong if we get angry and yell, but we’re all being sold counterfeit goods. We are left empty and unfulfilled, we leave a trail of pain and suffering in ourselves and others. Counterfeiting is indeed the biggest criminal enterprise in the world, and the greatest counterfeiter of all is the Evil Inclination, the little voice in our heads that keeps telling us we’ll be happier if we follow the roadmap he paints so seductively for us.
We just experienced a day most awesome and holy, Yom Kippur, when we spend the whole day, coming to grips with all the fakeness in our life, all the things we did that don’t truly represent who we are. We promised God we would try to live a life that was more authentic, that was truly in line with the Godly beings we are. And immediately after Yom Kippur, we begin preparing for Succos, the time when we live most authentically. We move out of our big and comfortable houses into little huts. They are not a lot to look at, but they are a lot to be in. They are not rich in physical trappings, they cost a fraction of our homes, but they are filled with real riches.
The Succah is a place where we go to be with God and family, God and friends, and sometimes just God and ourselves. It’s a place where we can eschew all the stuff and embrace all the being. It’s a place of song, feasting, and festivity, a place where we prove to ourselves that what makes us happy is not what we have but what we do.
Of all the holidays in the Jewish calendar, this is the one called Zman Simchaseinu, the Time of Our Joy. Because there is no greater joy than being yourself, being the divine being you are. And when we finally push all the counterfeit goods out of our life, we realize that there is so much to celebrate in who we are, so much wealth and joy in being God’s beloved children, ensconced in the Succah, God’s loving embrace.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Parsha is mostly comprised of a song, which Moshe related to the Jewish people. Melding past, present, and future the beautiful, and at times haunting, song is about the Jewish people and their relationship with G-d. In the beginning of the song Moshe proclaims, “Let my instructions flow like rainfall, let my sayings drip like dew; like storm winds upon vegetation, and like raindrops on grass.” (Deut. 32:2) The Vilna Gaon asks, why did Moshe describe his teachings, the Torah, as being like rainfall?
While falling on a field, rain will water the whole field equally. However, what the rain will cause to grow is dependent on what was put into that earth. If the person toiled and planted fruit or grain seeds, he will soon have an orchard or field of grain growing beautifully. If he planted nothing, having chosen to spend the planting season chatting online or catching up on all the soap operas and celebrity poker shows, he will find his field to be quite empty despite the prodigious rain. Worse yet, if he planted the deadly foxglove plant in this field, he will find that the rain helped him get a full crop of a venomous poison.
Torah, the Vilna Gaon explains, has the same attributes. It is an incredible receptacle of Divine wisdom that is given to humans to interact with and explore. What we get out of it however is dependent on what we put in. If we invest ourselves in the Torah and expend the necessary time, energy, and emotion into capturing its truth, if we approach it with respect, and are honest with ourselves as we study it – even when it calls upon us to make meaningful changes in our lives, the Torah will then lead us to levels of knowledge and spiritual joy we could not have imagined possible. On the other hand, if we leave our field of Jewish knowledge fallow (i.e. we take an unhealthy approach or we don’t cultivate it), we will be left bereft of the most incredible inheritance we have as a people – the Torah.
One can also distort Torah or selectively find a Torah source to find license for distorted perspectives or to justify their preconceived, inaccurate ideas. Our approach to Torah study makes all the difference as the prophet Hoshea cautions, “For the ways of the Lord are straight, the righteous shall walk in them, and the rebellious shall stumble on them.” (Hoshea 14:10)
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l (1908-2001) was one of the greatest Torah teachers in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. His many books were fascinating and interesting yet taught many of the foundations of Jewish belief and philosophy. Tapes of his weekly Torah classes made their way all across America and allowed him to inspire many more than the thousands who attended his unapologetic, direct, yet uplifting Torah lectures. He even created the Telephone Torah Program, in ways a forerunner of Partners in Torah, whereby one individual would learn portions of Chumash and then would repeat them over the telephone to a partner on a weekly basis. After beginning with Parshas Bereishis and Noach, the program was expanded to include Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) and Talmud. Where did Rabbi Avigdor Miller get his fiery love for Torah, Jews, and Judaism?
When he was in his early twenties, Rabbi Miller left the comforts of the US to go study in the famed Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania. There he dedicated himself to Torah study with an uncommon seriousness. During the first three hours of the day, he would talk with no one, wanting that time to be purely dedicated to Torah study. If people came to him to discuss something, he would motion to them to return later. He was busy planting his field with fertile seeds of Torah.
This Succos, let’s make sure to plant the coming year with a crop of love, kindness, Torah, holiness, giving, prayer, and study. We can then be assured that 5777 will be a year filled with a bumper crop of goodness!
As mentioned above, most of this week’s Parsha is comprised of a song. In the beginning Moshe calls out to the heavens and earth to hear his song, as they are witnesses that will exist forever, and they can be G-d’s messengers to reward the Jewish people with plentiful rain and bountiful crops, or punish them by withholding the bounty.
Moshe begins by talking about the greatness of G-d, in that He is out Creator, Father, and the Rock onto which we hold to maintain our stable existence on this shaky planet. G-d is incorruptible, hence the corruption we see on this world is the invention of His children. Just ask your elders, Moshe tells us, and they will tell of the greatness of G-d, and the miracles He performed while taking us out of Egypt. They will relate to you how G-d chose us and made us into His special portion.
There will come a time when the Jewish people will be living in a place where everything is working out for them, and they will become prosperous. They will then begin to kick out at G-d and deny His role in their success, and even desert Him entirely. When this happens G-d will become angry with the Jewish people and set enemies upon them, enemies that will scatter them all over the world. (If you read the history of our people, you will find this to be chillingly accurate. Every time the Jewish nation becomes too comfortable in their host nation, and they begin to assimilate and lose their Jewishness, a terrible calamity suddenly befalls them and forces them to recognize their identity. It comes in different forms, from expulsions, to Inquisitions, to libels, to a Holocaust, but unfortunately it is a pattern that has repeated itself many times in our challenged history.)
Then, the enemy will rejoice thinking they have great power. They will not have the wisdom to see that no one has been able to quash Judaism in the past, and it is only the G-d of the Jews that has allowed them the success they have had in persecuting us. At this point, G-d swears that He will lift up His sword (metaphorically of course) and take vengeance upon those who have wreaked havoc on His people. He will lovingly return His people to their land and once again they will bask in His presence.
Although this message has some frightening and sobering undertones, we have to understand that this is what makes it a song. A song in order to have real beauty must have both low parts and high parts, which when contrasted with each other form enchanting music. This is the song Moshe teaches us before he dies. It is the story of a nation that has lows, when we are afflicted and persecuted, but then rises from the ashes to take flight again and soar. No good song can be created in monotone, the challenges and lows are what make the highs so special and precious.
At the end of the Parsha, Moshe tells his prime student and successor, Yehoshua, to teach in front of all the Jews, so that everyone will witness Moshe giving the mantle of leadership to Yehoshua, and not question his authority later. The Parsha concludes with G-d telling Moshe to climb to the top of a Mt. Nevo from where he will see the Land of Israel, the land he will be unable to enter. From this vantage point, Moshe saw not only the land, but he also saw prophetically all that would transpire to his beloved flock from the time of his death until the time of the Messiah!
Quote of the Week: Tomorrow is the only day in the year that appeals to the lazy person. ~ Jimmy Lyons
Random Fact of the Week: Michigan borders no ocean… but has more lighthouses than any other state!
Funny Line of the Week: Raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the main reason that I have trust issues.
Have a Radiant Shabbos and a Joyful Succos,
R’ Leiby Burnham