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A post in which I cannot stop recalling the words of one Rabbi Irving P. Glickman. (Odd that I remember the “P” so well, as I have no idea what it stood for…)

Anyway, it is not often that my thoughts return to Rabbi Glickman, the erstwhile rabbi of Congregation Keneseth Israel back in its quasi-Orthodox days. But yesterday, while innocently—or not so innocently, we’ll get there in a sec—surfing the web, his voice sounded loudly in my head. And it’s not going away.

I was shopping for glasses of all things. I have been shopping for glasses for over a year now. Mine are now three years old and are getting tired. To say nothing of how tired of them I’m getting. So a year ago I shopped around and found nothing to fit my pin-head. A few months after that I shopped some more and still found nothing. Then I went online and was overwhelmed by the volume of frames. Then I checked out Warby Parker and, after a brief but intense online shopping courtship, had to break things off when they too failed to have my size. Then I found a wonderful pair of frames online, ordered them, and nearly exploded from frustration when the company mis-shipped them, then failed to re-ship them. That relationship ended with me and some guy named Yaakov in Brooklyn yelling at each other over the phone. The less said about that call the better.

On the rebound, I returned to the one place I’ve ever had success, a place that promises status at the cost of niceness. And they had nothing. So I looked up the glasses I tried to buy from Yaakov, found them at one and only one other online store, and waited too long to place my order. The day I finally got out my credit card appears to have been the day they decided to close up shop. So back to the mean girls shop I went, and yesterday it came through for me. Four pairs of attractive and well fitting eyeglass frames awaited me. After a year of futility I was so unaccustomed to choice that, like Buridian’s ass, I returned home empty-handed.

At which point in time I keyed the model number of the front-runner in Google, hoping to find a picture to show Matt. On my first hit, I found the exact same glasses staring back at me for $42 less than the store-quoted price, $54.60 if you include sales tax.

It was at this point—with eyes wide and cursor hovering over the “add to cart” button—that Rabbi Glickman’s words came to me. I do not remember many of his sermons, and I have willfully abandoned the message of others. But back around 1980 or so he gave a sermon about price comparison shopping, and this lesson has stuck with me. “You cannot,” he adjured us, “go to a specialty shop, ask questions about a product like a camera, use the store owner’s or clerk’s expertise to help you choose the right product, and then go buy it for less at a big discount store. That’s the same as stealing; you have stolen that person’s time and expertise.”

This was all according to the Talmud, which presumably did not offer up a fancy camera or television set as an example. Alas, while I am happy to argue with entire tractates of the Talmud, they’ve got me on this one. My wallet, on the other hand, wishes I’d put up a fight. Do I really think I got $42 worth of advice ($54.60 after tax) from this little optical boutique? Probably not. But would I have found this attractive needle in the online haystack? Most certainly not.

So Rabbi Glickman, alav ha shalom, you win this round. As does the Talmud. As does my conscience. I just wish my bank account didn’t have to suffer so…

Coda: On a whim, I Googled Rabbi Irving P. Glickman. Turns out he died just over eight years ago in Chicago. His obituary is here.  I’m glad I did, too, because it turns out he had a more varied and interesting career than I would have ever thought. He also had a substantial teaching career, which goes a long way towards explaining his facility in class and from the pulpit, something that I was acutely aware of even as a relatively young child.


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