[Setting: Standing on line in a bakery on Friday afternoon, casually eavesdropping on two women having a conversation behind me]
Woman 1: I’m running really late today… I wonder if they’ve already locked the cash registers.
Woman 2: ‘Locked the cash registers?’ What does that mean… they won’t take our money?
W1: Yeah… basically. 30 – 45 minutes before they officially close, the owner goes around to each cash register and locks the drawers… and then goes home. The cashiers have instructions to tell anyone coming after the drawers are locked that they have no way to accept money so whatever the customers have picked out is free.
W2: I don’t get it… why would the owner do that?
W1: Don’t you see… it’s just like in Machane Yehuda [the open air produce market in Jerusalem] where a lot of the vendors who sell perishables slash their prices an hour before closing for shabbat. That way the poor people can ‘buy’ the things they need for shabbat with dignity… and the vendors basically give things that can’t be stored over shabbat to a worthy cause. And because some of the people doing last minute shopping really are simply running late, there is no shame for the poor because nobody knows who is who.
W2: Wait, so you’re telling me it’s an open secret that poor people come here during the last hour before closing and they get their baked goods for free?
W1: Exactly, only everyone’s dignity is protected by the fact that some shoppers are actually running late… and by the owner’s little charade of the locked cash registers. This way everyone wins; The owner of the bakery performs a ‘hesed’ [roughly translates as an act of kindness]… the cashiers get to take part in the act… and the recipients can just as easily be genuinely running late as poor… so there is no embarrassment to anyone at being on the receiving end of the act.
W2: [after a brief pause] Y’know… sometimes I love this country!