Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – My Amazon Epiphany

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Operation Inspiration

OK, let’s clear up the title right away. This is not going to be a story about how I was in South America and found “G-d” at the banks of the mighty Amazon River. I’m sure there are plenty of people who could tell you that one, but not me.

I’m not going to write about a large female warrior whose skills in battle made me realize something about life or the nature of war. Perhaps you can find a comic book heroine to help you with that if you really insist.

No, I’m going to speak about Amazon, the internet-based juggernaut which has become one of the largest companies on the planet. It has managed to be successful despite continuously losing money, the story of which in itself would probably be a great piece of interesting prose and possibly even inspirational fodder. However, my epiphany (/??pif?n?/ noun – a moment of sudden revelation or insight) came through a much more personal experience.

I don’t mean that I placed an order and it was delivered. That happens all the time. Seriously. All. The. Time. Our UPS driver even asked us to stop ordering so much from Amazon. It really happened. But I have another relationship with Amazon and that’s when this revelation occurred.

People are proud of the things they do. Parents are proud of their children, builders are proud of their buildings and homes, and craftsmen are proud of their handiwork. It doesn’t even have to be such a complex thing. I had someone show me a video of the sukkah he made with Velcro and fabric and he was so proud of the idea and design that he was showing it off as if he’d constructed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the Opera House in Sydney.

Well, I’m a writer and besides for sharing my Divrei Torah and articles, I enjoy checking on my babies, my two books which are available on Amazon (as well as in Judaica stores.) That’s what led to the following situation.

A young woman called me one day. She wanted to buy a copy of my book Operation Inspiration, which is a collection of some of the best of the articles I write like the one you are reading now, in a lovely and easy-to-carry paperback format, suitable for taking on the bus, airplane, or in your briefcase for the office, school, or pool. She asked if it were possible to purchase a copy from me directly for less than the $12.99 cover price or whatever price the stores might sell it for.

Because of my Amazon habit, and frequently checking my book on Amazon and seeing how it moved in the rankings, I knew that they were selling the book that day for a ridiculous sixty percent off the cover price. I told her she should buy it from them and she would get an unbeatable deal. But she was hesitant.

“Why would they sell it for so little? Is there something different or wrong with it?” I told her, “I don’t understand Amazon’s algorithms. They have some reason for what they’re doing but the product is the same. It’s just cheaper.”

Well, she purchased a copy that day, as did her mother. (If you’re reading this, I hope you’re enjoying the book!) Then I checked Amazon again. $12.99! They raised the price to full cover price, not even a smidgen off like places will do to make it seem like they’re giving people a bargain.

I was nervous that the girl had been shut out, but when I checked, she assured me they had paid the reduced price (though the book is worth its weight in gold, of course!) so I watched the book and tracked the price. It stayed full for about 24 hours, and then went down again to nearly 50% off list price.

That’s when I had my epiphany. Amazon sells lots of things. They discount them to make them attractive to people, though some may wonder what’s wrong with the item. When they have a demand for something though, they keep it at full price.

On Rosh Hashana we crown Hashem as our King. On Yom Kippur we wear white and spend all day with Him in shul. On Sukkos we take our faith to the streets as we sit outside in our Sukkos and represent Hashem and Torah to the world. How we do that will affect their value to others.

If we are holy people and show that it is the Torah that makes us such, people will want to jump on the bandwagon and come closer to Hashem. There’s a demand and the price is not discounted. “If you want this you have to work for it, but it will be worth it.”

On the flip side, if chas v’shalom we are not acting properly, the value of Judaism goes down in people’s eyes and they wonder what’s wrong with it; what shortcomings are hidden behind the scenes? Each and every one of us is a salesman for Torah and Mitzvos, and the things we do are the salesmen’s samples we have to teach the world about our product.

We can and should deliver our Torah for free (just like Amazon’s shipping!) and send it far and wide. At the same time, though, we must make sure to keep the demand high so that everyone realizes what a bargain and what value they are truly getting in living as a Torah Jew.

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