I’ve written before about airline and travel status. In today’s world, there are dozens, hundreds, or maybe thousands, of experts, gurus and insiders who can tell you how to score First Class airline cabins, luxury hotel rooms and all sorts of other goodies, “for free.”
Well, it’s not actually free, as you most often need to get various credit cards, accumulate points, and then find the sweet-spot to use those points for the trips you want to take. Of course, they remind you, it’s easier if your destination and travel dates are flexible. Then, you can take advantage of the very best offers out there, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
Not too long ago, a picture was going around social media of a fellow, wrapped in tefillin, saying Shema on an airplane. People were commenting about the beautiful show of devotion to Hashem, and similar comments. Then someone said, “Prayers hit different from First Class.” It was true, this young man was standing in what seemed to be a luxury “pod” on an airplane. It seemed like a nice way to serve Hashem, from the lap of luxury, comfortable, and pampered. But, of course, that isn’t how life generally works.
If you think about the people who really have travel status, the ones who don’t need points to ride up front to their destination, the ones who are recognized and known to the flight crews and the hotel staff, you’d realize that to earn this status, these people are giving up a lot.
They are leaving their homes, perhaps for extended periods of time, mostly for work, trying to make a sale or connection with clients. They are always on the move, not getting to rest and relax in those plush hotel rooms and spas. They are busy going from place to place and the small bit of pampering they get is a hard trade-off.
And what happens when you stop traveling so much? When you’re already a “million-miler” but you don’t fly as much anymore? They stop loving you so much. You’re not such an important person to the airlines and though you’ll have some residual status, it’s a far cry from what it used to be when they would massage your ego with complimentary cocktails and reclining seats. I heard this from a woman in the airport who, in her younger years, must have traveled quite frequently. Now, she lamented, it’s rather sad that her status doesn’t go very far.
What a parallel to life! We spend our brief lifetimes traveling from this world to the next, and we’re so concerned about our class of travel. We want to be pampered and lauded for the seats we’re in, even though this isn’t our home and we’re just passing through. Sure, it’s nice to go in style, but at what cost?
If we’re focused on our material success and comfort; on the admiring comments from other people who are really trying to get something out of it for themselves, then when we land, and arrive at our destination, we might be in for a bit of a shock. It’s like spending $5000 on a business-class ticket to Israel, with lie-flat seats and white-glove service, then staying in a cheap hostel there because you’ve blown your savings on the seat you occupied for a small number of hours, most of which you slept through. The allure of traveling in comfort has cost you long-term pleasure at your destination.
No one is saying you shouldn’t have nice clothing, good food, and a comfortable home. It’s fine to want those things if it’s in the cards for you, but don’t spend your time chasing the upgrades at the expense of other things. One day, those millions of miles or dollars won’t be worth what they are right now.
If you can afford both the nice seat and fabulous accommodations when you get where you’re going, more power to you. The person who wears expensive clothing while sitting in shul davening or learning, and giving appropriate amounts of tzedaka, can go ahead and do it. If one can fly in a first-class seat and still daven with kavana like the boy in the picture, then we haven’t taken our eyes off the destination, and we will make sure we’ve got everything we need waiting for us on the other side.
To me, the fact that these perks are primarily available for travel made the lesson just jump out at me. It’s such a clear parable about how we’re just passing through and this isn’t where we belong or want to be ultimately. Of course, if we look at our time on this world as an opportunity to serve Hashem and others and to do our jobs as we trek onwards, then we’re actually accomplishing something with our travel. It’s not merely a means to an end, but part and parcel of getting us to our destination.
So, as you look forward to a sweet New Year, remember that life is a journey, and while getting there may be half the fun, it’s not nearly as important as where you’re headed.
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