By Rabbi Avtzon
There are so many things that we all take for granted in our daily lives. One of those many things is the cash register that we see in stores and supermarkets. We all expect the cashier to be standing near a cash register and processing our payments and giving us the proper change when necessary.
The cash register was one of the many inventions that were created in Southern Ohio – in the city of Dayton. From the end of the nineteenth century through the twentieth century, Dayton Ohio was one of the leaders in inventions. It included the airplane, the cash register, the self-starting ignition for automobiles, and the pop top beverage can. So who invented the first cash register? A man named James Jacob Ritty who owned a saloon in Dayton.
Mr. Ritty grew tired of having his profits stolen by less-than-scrupulous bartenders. He invented the register as part of an effort to track his funds and keep track of how much money he made. The device was a purely mechanical one and designed to track income, not to give change, although that evolution would come with time. Ritty sold his interests in his company to a business that would eventually become the National Cash Register Company. Owned by Mr. John Patterson, one of the famous citizens of the city of Dayton, the cash register eventually turned Patterson into a very rich man.
It is hard to believe, but the early cash registers actually got an anti-semitic nickname: “Jewish Piano.” Old-time cash registers had many sounds, such as rings, that were sweet music to merchants. The cash register was sometimes called a “Jewish piano,” after the stereotype of Jews as money-grabbing.The slang comes from The Virginia Reel in 1921: ”I want to buy a Jewish piano. What’s that? Cash register.”
Another Jewish cash register “fun fact”: A leading designer, builder, manufacturer, seller and exporter of cash registers from the 1950s until the 1970s was London-based (and later Brighton-based) Gross Cash Registers Ltd., founded by the two Jewish brothers Sam and Henry Gross. You can still see some old Gross cash register machines in some places today.
Why are we discussing cash registers? Because we are in the time of the year, where exact counting of our time is very important. We are now in the time of the year between the holiday of Pesach (celebrating our liberation from Egypt) and the holiday of Shavuos (celebrating the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai).The two holidays are interconnected, as the real goal of the exodus from Egypt wasn’t just the liberation from bondage and Egyptian oppression, rather , the receiving of the Torah and officially becoming the Jewish people. After the exodus, the Jewish people prepared themselves for seven weeks for the receiving of the Torah.
What are we supposed to do in this time period every year? The Torah (Leviticus 23:15) tells us: “And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day — from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering — seven weeks; they shall be complete.You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord.”
Why do we count these days? We learn several reasons. The foremost is that the count demonstrates our thrill for the impending occasion of receiving the Torah, celebrated on Shavuot. Just as a child often counts the days until the end of school or an upcoming family vacation, we count the days to show our excitement at again receiving the Torah (as we do in fact receive the Torah in a renewed sense every year).
It is also a time for inner growth. The growth that occurs during this time is akin to a marathon. We pace ourselves and seek to improve day by day until we reach the day that we again receive the Torah. In this process, we look deep within ourselves and work on all of our negative attributes. If we are challenged in the realm of acts of kindness, we go out of our way to do more charitable works. If we are lacking in the area of justice, we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and are exacting and demanding in our personal behavior and habits. And so it goes for all of our traits.
I once heard a wise man say: “In the weeks of Sefirah (these intermediary weeks between the festivals), it is not enough to count your days; You must make your days count!” Every day of life is a gift from Hashem and must be utilized in its fullest to better ourselves and those around us. Let us all value the gift of life and prepare to receive the Torah with joy and let the Torah affect us in a real and inner way.