The Boy Scouts of America have fallen into disuetude. At the height of its popularity in the second half of the twentieth century, hardly a church or synagogue did not sponsor a troop. Intended to develop good character and citizenship in addition to teaching useful skills, boys collected “merit badges” for their proficiency. Scouts wore uniforms, exchanged unique salutes, and held to a specific pledge. They were also motivated to live in accordance with the motto: “Be Prepared.”
The notion of being prepared did not originate with the Boy Scouts, however. It has far more ancient – and Jewish – roots. The Torah (Exodus 27:3) lists the implements that needed to be fashioned in order to perform the sacrificial rites. There were pots for the removal of ashes from the altar, shovels, basins, flesh-hooks for grabbing the sacrificial meat, and fire-pans for transferring coals. All the implements were to be made of brass. Commenting on the list, the Talmud (Hagigah 26b) states that all the vessels in the Temple had replacements so if one was rendered ritually impure, another could substitute. In other words, the custodians of the Temple had to be prepared for the possibility that the vessels intended for use were disqualified because of contamination. Since the sacrificial service was essential, replacement vessels had to be available if needed. In this way, the Temple service would proceed unabated.
Being prepared for any eventuality is indeed good advice. Having lived through the shortages at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, my wife organized what she felicitously calls “the Apocalypse cupboard” which she fills with a variety of essentials just in case of another shortage. When we suffered through an electricity outage, I resolved that we would never be incommunicado again. So, I purchased a crank radio that can also charge cells phones and serve as a flash-light too. (It also has a solar cell.) When Wi-Fi was lost at the school where I teach, the students concluded that everyone should go home since they have no access to the internet. I told them that in preparation for this eventuality, I have paper and pencils for everyone. The learning continued, to the dismay of my students.
These are all good examples of preparation but not exhaustive. In life it is always vital to have a “Plan B.” Should things not work out as expected, everyone should be prepared to consider the next, best option. That is a profound message derived from the Torah.