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Parshas Pinchas - Is it the Luck of the Draw or is it the Law?                         23 Tammuz 5779

07/26/19 08:58:23


As many of my readers are aware, I tend to do a fair share of shopping. It is a way for me to relax, save money and get some free exercise. Two stores that I frequent are Costco and Walmart, and while they vary significantly in quality and price, they do share a common practice: receipt checking. Many people think the swiping of your receipt with a highlighter upon exiting Costco is a joke. I now have three reasons why this quick swipe makes sense - two in my favor, one in theirs.

The first situation applies to a person who may have accidentally left his cart unattended following checkout. At Costco, no one could walk out with that person’s cart because the person who mistakenly left the cart was still in possession of the receipt. The second scenario actually occurred when I was in the process of leaving Costco with a full cart and somehow the person checking out my receipt questioned how many cartons of eggs I had just paid for; instead of the three cartons listed on the receipt, I had four cartons sitting in the cart. I felt as though they suspected me of stealing that fourth carton, but it was really an obvious mistake on the part of the cashier. This checking is done to keep losses down and also to provide an added level of checking and control on the checkout process. Since that incident, I assumed that the routine checking of the receipt was for their benefit - until a recent visit. Last week, I shopped at Costco in New Jersey, and, with a full-to-the-rim cart, the clerk glanced at the receipt and said, “Did you buy two packages of a certain meat?” After we inspected the cart, we discovered that the cashier had double charged me, and this fellow caught it! I was amazed and flabbergasted that he was able to glance down at the receipt, look in the cart, and find the discrepancy - this time in my favor! I finally came to really appreciate why Costco checks the receipts! Costco checks every customer as they exit; Walmart checks randomly. Still… must I allow the store to check my receipt?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation. The Fourth Amendment guards us against unreasonable searches and seizures. The California Penal code 490.5 states: " A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant's premises."

Costco’s checking isn’t random but sort of mandated, while Walmart is sort of a lottery pick. These two choices are found in the Torah in a few places. In this week’s Parshas Pinchas the Torah states in Bemidbar 26:55,56 אַךְ בְּגוֹרָל יֵחָלֵק אֶת הָאָרֶץ לִשְׁמוֹת מַטּוֹת אֲבֹתָם יִנְחָלוּ.

עַל פִּי הַגּוֹרָל תֵּחָלֵק נַחֲלָתוֹ בֵּין רַב לִמְעָט : “However, hereditary property shall be granted to paternal families through a lottery system. This is how the land shall be divided. Whether a group is large or small, its hereditary property shall be divided by a lottery system”. Rashi explains a tribe that was larger in population received a larger portion of land than that given to a smaller tribe. Although the portions were not equal, since they divided the land according to the size of the tribe, they did so only by means of the lot and the lottery assigned the portions by means of Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit – assigned absolutely through the hand of Hashem.

There is a debate in the Talmud Bava Basra 117 regarding whether the land divided was based upon the number of people per tribe at the time they left Egypt or by the number of people at the time they entered the land. Reb Yoshiya says it was divided according to the number of people who left Mitzrayim, while Rebi Yonasan maintains it was divided according to the number of Jews entering the land. A second question debated was regarding whether the land was divided according to the number of people per tribe or was divided equally among the twelve tribes? The Malbim explains it was through the Goral/lottery that the inheritance was divided. The lottery determined in which area of the country the inheritance of each tribe would reside, but it was divided equally among the tribes despite the size or the number of people in the tribe. The Sifri maintains that lottery clarified between the many and few (of each tribe’s population), therefore the larger tribes received a larger portion than the smaller tribes received. The Goral decided the place of the inheritance of that tribe and its borders.

The Midrash Tanchuma explains that the actual Goral/lottery had an additional component, another miracle in addition to the dividing. The Goral/lottery announced itself above that which the Urim V’Tumom displayed on the Kohen’s chest by calling out, “I am the lottery to assign this portion for this tribe and this area to this tribe”.

The Rabbis expound on the Midrash Tanchuma that the Goral was a blessing so that no tribe would be jealous or angry at another tribe for receiving a larger or smaller portion. Everyone understood that the Goral came from Hashem for the better and the better. Similarly, Rabbeinu Bachya explains this method separated the Jews from quarreling and arguing against one another and ultimately brought about Shalom.

The Costco version of checking is a lottery that stipulates everyone is singled out; no one is different. This is comparable to the benefit the lottery had regardless of being a member of a large or a small tribe. It was for the benefit of all. So, too, regarding Costco. Their checking works for the benefit of the company and the customer, it’s from Heaven. On the other hand, the randomness of Walmart could easily create animosity between the employees and the customers.

During the three weeks, called Bein HaMitzarim, we recall the difficulties of the time. M’Tzarim and Mitzrayim are the same word, both meaning pressure and narrowness. The debate of who the land was divided for was during the in-between time which spanned from leaving Egypt to entering the land. Let us treat each other with an equality and evenness and recognize that the lot each of us has in life comes from God and to be happy with it. It is with this recognition that we should be Zocheh/merit to leave this Galus/Exile as we did when leaving Egypt and enter the phase of returning to Eretz Yisrael, entering the land in the Geulah Shelaima, Amen!

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780