[Post on my mind today: Not so easy to contain the disgust, from Orthonomics]
with apologies to Dr. Oliver Sacks for the title
I was up on a chair at my Bar Mitzvah celebration when the offer was made. A friend of our family asked me which gift I would like: A Shas [set of Talmud] or a Borsalino hat? [Borsalino is a high-end, expensive brand, although I didn't know that at the time. In 1985, both a Borsalino and a Pninim Shas probably ran between 100 and 130 dollars.]
I chose the Shas.
I wish I could say it was an educated, ideological decision, substance over style, Shas over shtick. But, in truth, I didn't really see much of a choice. The men of our family didn't wear hats for davening or Shabbos, and I didn't know anything about why anyone would wear one. It was more ignorance than anything else.
I received that Shas as well as another one for my bar mitzvah, and I'm glad I have both; I've scribbled notes in the volumes of both over the years, and carried them all over, to the point where bindings are frayed and gone, and some pages are covered with more of my own writing than the original. I'm really attached to it, far more attached than I've ever been to a piece of clothing, even a piece of clothing associated with a mitzvah. Score one for the Shas, in terms of utility.
And score another for the Shas: I didn't end up putting on a hat for another five years, until my second year in yeshiva in Israel, when I started wearing one in honor of Shabbos. It would be another twelve or so years before I would start wearing a hat for davening in general (as a way to enhance the jacket and tie I was wearing all day). So from a 'years of use' perspective, my decision certainly made sense.
Beyond years of use, though, and beyond my general attachment to that Pninim Shas, I'm glad of my decision because now that I am of age to make an informed decision, I can't see trading Torah for a hat. In truth, I'm not really sure why there was a question in the first place.
I don't think that the generous person offering the gift really thought a hat was the equivalent of a Shas. Maybe he was doing it to tease my family, who were not hat-wearers. Or maybe he just wanted to see where I was, mentally. Or, perhaps, he was just joking. Don't know.