It Pays to be a VIP – Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz, Operation Inspiration

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Prologue: After many years of being an Observant Jew and taking note of things, I’ve decided to kick it up a notch and make it a conscious effort to look at things that happen and try to learn from them. Thus we launch: Operation Inspiration,  Eternal Lessons in Everyday Events.

  

It Pays to be a VIP

While planning a trip to Eretz Yisrael, I heard about a fellow who helps to expedite your trip through customs and passport control at the airport and gets your luggage for you. I asked my travel agent if she knew the fellow but she did not. “I don’t know that person,” she told me, “but I can arrange VIP service for you.”

It got me thinking. What is a VIP? A Very Important Person. Do I become important just because I pay a few extra dollars? (Or a lot of extra dollars?) I can see why someone like a Member of Knesset might be treated like a VIP, or perhaps a visiting dignitary. They are working for the country, affecting the lives of millions of people, and they may have earned some deference. These people don’t have to pay for the special treatment, they get it simply because of who they are and what they do.

So why do we want the honor or prestige? Well, why not? Should I want to wait in a line with a bunch of other people when I have a way to skip the lines? I recall a story about R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky. They say he was driving somewhere and he instructed his driver to allow a bus to merge in front of them. “After all,” he said, “there are more of them than there are of us.” It would seem that even though he could easily have been considered a VIP, he didn’t think of himself that way and didn’t want the other people to wait for him.

So, when people pay extra money for special treatment, does it mean they are actually important people or simply that they believe their money makes them important? Yes, some people may say that they simply value their time and if they have the money they want to do it. That’s fine, but we still have more to consider. We have to ask how they will feel when they see other people who’ve been waiting in line looking with envy at them passing by. Will they feel a tinge of apology for buying VIP status or will they enjoy the looks of those who wonder how they deserved such special handling?

Sometimes when we pay to be a VIP it is proper. For example, when people buy aliyos or other honors at shul simply because they wish to donate money and inspire others to give, this is admirable. One fellow who was looking to get remarried gave a shadchan a large check to show he was serious. He was therefore on this shadchan’s mind and with Hashem’s help he found an appropriate match. It wasn’t because he was rolling in dough, but because it was important to him to fulfill the will of Hashem that ‘it is not good for Man to be alone.’ That’s when it makes sense to pay for priority.

OK, this is all fine and dandy, but what about those of us who can’t pay for the VIP treatment? We who will have to wrangle our own luggage, or may not even be able to afford the travel; should we give up hopes of ever being a VIP? Not at all.

You see, being a real VIP has very little to do with how you are treated and a lot to do with how you treat others. There’s a very telling quote from one of the greatest teachers and philosophers of the 20th Century, Theodore Geisel, known by his pen name of Dr. Seuss. He said, “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”

In other words, your real value in the world is based on how crucial you are to the lives of others. R’ Moshe Meir Weiss Shlit”a often quotes a rishon by the name of R’ Luniel who wrote a sefer called Orchos Chaim. In it, he writes that a person should always endeavor to surround himself with brothers and friends. This doesn’t mean that he’s always ready to have a party. What it means is that he matters in the lives of many other people. They depend on him and this has a very big payout.

Chazal tell us that Nadav and Avihu died (among other reasons) because they didn’t get married or have families. We know that they sinned by going into the Kodesh HaKedoshim unbidden to offer incense. Why then do the Sages say it was because they didn’t get married?

It is precisely because a husband, a father, a wife or a mother are VIPs. People are counting on them; they are needed. Had Nadav and Avihu been married, even if their sin deserved the death penalty, HaShem would have said, “Wait a minute, if he dies, his wife will be alone. She won’t be able to support her family; she won’t have anyone to turn to when she’s sad or upset. I will spare his life in her merit because she doesn’t deserve this suffering.”

The lesson this week is that it truly pays to be a VIP – to someone – even if you can’t afford to pay to be treated that way by everyone else.

 

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