The broken hearts of small business owners (Daf Yomi Shabbos 140)

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“It is preferable for one to care for his body by eating higher quality food than to conserve his money.”

Reading today’s portion felt like a visit to the Daf Yomi Gourmet Specialty Store. Everything in the shop is carefully selected by the proprietor for quality. It costs a bit more than what you would pay in the supermarket but is worth it. We are told that it is better to buy higher quality goods than to be cheap and buy generic brands.

The Daf Yomi Specialty Store is featuring exotic hand-ground mustards today. They are on display to your right as you enter. The sign indicates that they come from a cooperative in North Africa that employs women to hand-grind the seeds and prepare the condiment jars. The gourmet mustard jars are octangle in shape with simple white labels that list their contents in elegant script. The most expensive jar contains black truffles. Other varieties of mustard are infused with vinegar and wine. There is a variety that is heavily spiced with garlic and another that is sweetened with honey.  There is an odd jar with beans and grits which has been on the shelf the longest and is a little weathered in appearance and another unusual mixture of wine and balsam with coarse seeds.

This particular shop, that lives in the Daf Yomi cloud, is visited by the Rabbis and Sages that we have become so familiar with. On any given day you will find among the clientele Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Yoḥanan, Shmuel, Abaye or Rava. The shop is known for an especially strong wine that will make your hair stand on end and create a shiver from the top of your head to your toes. Mar Ukva is especially fond of this wine. He has attempted to serve it to Rav Yosef who found it too strong for his tastes and became very tipsy.

Our Daf Yomi store also features asafetida from Afghanistan, which is presented as an herbal laxative and remedy for respiratory diseases. It can also be used to spice curry dishes, but in very small quantities. Customers who untwist the lid of its jar in order to get a whiff of its scent, quickly replace it due to its pungent smell. We are told by the proprietor of the store that this gummy herb can be used as a remedy for pain in the heart, but also to cure the broken-hearted.

There is a section of the store with groceries, which include fresh vegetables that are selected daily from the local green market and arranged in colorful bundles on the shelves. There are hand-crafted beers and barley and wheat bread. The shop offers discounts to students with proper identification. The students hear about the shop from their teachers in the Yeshiva, who remind them that “it is preferable for one to care for his body by eating higher quality food than to conserve his money.

Our imaginary Daf Yomi shop is not unlike the many that have suffered since COVID-19 shut down local economies and shattered the dreams of small business owners who have put loving care into their carefully edited shops. These shops were shut down from March to late June and when they were able to open so many were no longer there. They left behind boarded-up storefronts and dark streets. I had hoped that they would be able to hang on and one day everyone would return. But there are no easy lights to switch on. It is going to be long road back. And there are a lot of broken hearts.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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