Prepping for the Worst

In a drug store recently, a magazine caught my eye while I was waiting in line. The name of it was “Prepper,” and from what I could tell by my brief glance, it was geared towards people who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it, (also referred to as: TEOTWAWKI.) Preppers are people who plan, prepare, and gain skills, in order to survive when things go kaploowie.  

In the 1950s, preppers were the ones building fallout shelters in case of nuclear Armageddon, and loading them up with twenty-five years’ worth of canned food and other non-perishables. In more recent times, they’re the people who are able to live “off the grid” and who have sources of energy and water that can be used even in the event of a major natural or man-made disaster.

Preppers and COVID-19

During the COVID pandemic, amateur preppers were the people who stocked up on things like Clorox wipes and toilet paper. When I was in a store trying to buy Clorox wipes, and the couple who got to the shelf two seconds before me cleared all twelve containers, leaving none for me, they were prepping. When I opened closets and cubby holes in my home and found toilet paper, even into 2024, I knew my wife had been prepping.

Well, I may not know how to light a fire without a stove, grow my own organic produce using rotten fruit and a plastic bag, or pick up radio signals with a Swiss Army knife, but recently I realized that I’m also a prepper.

Prep before Shabbat, Eat on Shabbat

I had gotten a package of ten boxes of tissues from a wholesale club and was stocking them on the shelves in my garage. Before I put them down, I was pulling off the cardboard cover of each to reveal the plastic where the tissues come out of, and pressing my fingers into the perforated slit of the plastic to open it completely. It struck me that most people probably don’t do that when they put tissues in their garage. Why was I doing it?

Many who are reading this can probably answer that question. Obviously, I was preparing them for Shabbat use. If you finish a box of tissues on Shabbat, you can’t simply grab a closed box and tear off the cardboard circle protecting the opening. You’d be tearing, making the box into a usable dispenser, and other Shabbat no-no’s. If you want to have tissues on Shabbat, you’ve got to prep beforehand.

In fact, Chazal (our sages) advise us all to become preppers in this way. The expression, “He who prepares on Erev Shabbat (Shabbat Eve) shall eat on Shabbat,” can be explained very pragmatically as I just did. If you want hot food on Shabbat, you’ve got to prepare your cholent beforehand, cook it, and keep it warm in a permissible way. On Shabbat you won’t have the chance to cook food, and that’s what the preppers of the world think. If there are no power plants operating, no trucking companies moving goods, or anything similar, what will you do? But these preppers are short-sighted.

Prepping for the World to Come

You see, they’re only concerned with the few years of life they have on this planet. We, as Jews, are preppers for a much longer future, one that is not just a potential need, but certain to occur. There may never be a nuclear holocaust or EMP that shuts down the power grid, but one day, we will all leave this world and enter the next. All we will have is what we prepared while we were here.

Mesilat Yesharim compares this world to the dry land and Olam Haba (The World to Come) to a sea voyage. We will only have on the ship what we packed along in advance. Once you’re on the ocean, there’s no way to buy things to sustain yourself. In order to “live” in Olam Haba, you need a full complement of Torah and mitzvot. If you really planned well, you’ll set up subscriptions to keep having deliveries made to you. No, they aren’t coming from Amazon. The recurring merits are the fruits of the seeds you planted here during your lifetime. If you raised a family or influenced others in a positive way, and they do good things, those are dividends you’ll keep receiving, and that will keep you better supplied. But you need to be preparing in advance.

49 Days to Prep for Kabbalat HaTorah

We’re now in the time of counting the Omer. As we count up the days toward the holiday of Shavuot, the day of Kabbalat Hatorah (the receiving of the Torah), we recognize we’re getting closer to something big, and that we need to prep for it before it arrives. The forty-eight ways to acquire Torah are much harder to do in a single day. That’s why we have time now, so we’re thinking ahead and doing what we can ahead of time.

Think of the people in your life who get this. The ones who spend their time in Torah and mitzvot, collecting chesed (lovingkindness) and zechutim (merits) which will sustain them in the days ahead, when there will be no chances to “earn points,” are just like those people stockpiling their bunkers for a day which may never come, only better, because we know it’s inevitable. That’s valuable knowledge to have, and should inspire us all to prepare for the next world.

To paraphrase an old ad jingle: I’m a prepper; he’s a prepper; she’s a prepper; we’re all preppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a prepper too?

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

Rabbi Gewirtz (Operation Inspiration) welcomes comments and feedback. Write to him at to share your thoughts. You never know when you may be the lamp that enlightens someone else.

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