Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Status Seeker

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Operation Inspiration

I’m not generally a person with strong drives and passions for “things.” I don’t get excited by the latest cars or gadgets, and I don’t get involved in the “hock” that others find so interesting. But lately I’ve noticed a certain taava I seem to have developed which is causing me to think differently about situations than I might otherwise and I find it fascinating.

It is the desire for “status.” It’s not for the kind that comes with fame and fortune, nor is it the desire to be an A-list celebrity on the Torah Anytime circuit, though I wouldn’t cry about that. This is something a bit different.

You see, lately I’ve been thinking about getting premier flyer status on a particular airline. My wife flies quite frequently for work, and she’s earned Platinum status. It definitely has its perks. She doesn’t pay for luggage (you have three bags and your family members have none? That’s fine.) We get upgraded seats for free, and she generally gets moved to Business Class for her work trips.

When I’m not with her, though, I have to pay for luggage. I don’t get to board early or get preferential treatment. I’m in the same proverbial boat as everyone else on the plane.

I started wanting to get my own ranking. I began to think about taking flights just to earn status. Sure I could drive for three hours to get to my meeting, and be home by early evening. But if I drive an hour to the airport two hours before my flight, and I fly for an hour to drive an hour to my meeting, then do it in reverse, I can earn status points for only $500 and get home by midnight!

Clearly, that’s a ridiculous thought process, yet it’s one I’m having, and I can pinpoint its source: the desire for the prestige of status. It’s amazing how much I will consider putting myself out for the extra points. And let me tell you, it’s not as simple as earning miles, which many people do with credit cards. Rather, the airline has a complex formula which uses an algorithm more complicated than those we used to send people to the moon and harder to understand than the messages of the Navajo code talkers. It’s like, I think I have a general idea of what will earn me points and get me closer to the coveted premier status, but I also can’t figure out exactly what I need to do and I remain at the mercy of the mysterious folks in a secret sub-basement somewhere who are always changing and reworking the system for their own benefit.

Thankfully, I’m a thinker and I reflect and mull things over. I realized that I was getting carried away with the nonsense of wanting to feel special and get something for nothing. It’s certainly not nothing, as you need to fly frequently and pay lots of money to travel. And then, you only get the benefits when you travel on the same airline which may not have the best flights or prices! In short, it’s nice to have, but it’s really not worth it most of the time.

Of course, zeh le’umas zeh, everything in this world has a parallel and the yearning for status has a spiritual counterpart. We know that there is a special formula not for the journey, but for the destination. It’s based on how you act along the way, and it determines the treatment you will get when you arrive.

Throughout life we’re accruing points and credits based on a formula only Hashem really knows. We know that in order to accrue points we have to do th things He finds valuable or worth rewarding. We have a list of activities that will earn us credit but there’s no absolute guide to what each thing is worth. On the plus side, He doesn’t keep changing the rules on us.

Sometimes we’ll have to do things that are out of our comfort zone. We might have to get up early or stay out late or go out of our way for others. We have to start weighing the options before us in any situation and determine whether the next decision we make will get us closer to the coveted status or not.

There’s even a parallel to the benefits of sharing status. R’ Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt”l was once commenting to his wife that people extended him honor of which he felt undeserving. They believed he knew more than he did and was a bigger tzaddik than he knew himself to be.

The Rebbetzin expressed consternation over this self-estimation and the Rav was quick to reassure her. “You are doing everything you can to support me in my learning and avodas Hashem and for that you will get complete Gan Eden. You will get schar as if I spent every moment to the fullest, because you are doing your part to give me that opportunity. For myself, I’m not so sure what I’ll deserve.”

The Rebbetzin listened and was appeased by the thought that she was fulfilling her role, but had another concern. “But I don’t want to be in Gan Eden without you!” she exclaimed.

“Ah,” responded R’ Yosef Chaim with a smile. “That’s what I’m counting on.”

We are on a journey and we have chances to be upgraded by choosing the right things and traveling companions. The status we earn will not reset at the beginning of the year, but will last eternally.

By sticking to the program and consistently choosing this mode of travel through life, we will find ourselves gaining points and benefits along the way, while our account balances grow and the benefits accrue. Then, when the numbers are tallied and we find out just how far we’ve progressed, we’ll recognize the status that is worth longing for, and will realize how “uplifted” we’ve truly become.

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