Over the last ten days our community hosted our 8th Belev Echad trip, where we welcome a group of severely wounded IDF soldiers and give them an incredible New York experience. One of the highlights of the trip is the Friday night dinner—hundreds of community members join for evening of inspiration with our heroic guests.
Knowing how popular the Friday night event has been in the past, I made sure to publicize it early. I sent out emails with all the relevant information, reminding people to get their reservations in early to ensure they had a spot. I posted multiple times on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus over several weeks.
Reservations came in steadily and I kept warning people that if they don't reserve soon, we might have no space left. When we reached capacity, we called the caterer and arranged for more space and more food, because we knew how much our community wanted the honor and privilege of spending Shabbat with the sounded IDF soldiers. So we opened up more seats. But eventually, those, too, were reserved, and we reached the point where we couldn't physically accommodate another person.
We closed the online reservation form and wrote clearly in red text, "We are sold out."
And that's when the drama began. Emails and Facebook messages poured in:
"Rabbi, check your website, I think something's wrong."
"Rabbi, did you get my reservation?"
"Rabbi, check your website immediately; it's malfunctioning."
In case it wasn't clear from our website, I posted to Facebook: "To all the dozens of people asking me, sold out means just that—sold out. And no, we cannot squeeze in even one more for tonight's Belev Echad Shabbat dinner of thanks and recognition. So sorry about that, please book earlier next time."
But even that didn't stop the barrage of phone calls, emails and text messages. In fact, once people knew that the event was really sold out, they realized it must be quite a special occasion and they wanted to join even more!
"Rabbi, do you have room for just one more?"
"Rabbi, I just heard about this event, please, please can I come?"
The best call of all came late Friday afternoon, after all my office staff had already left for the day. I was half way out when the phone rang, and I knew I shouldn't pick it up, but I did anyway.
As expected, it was someone wanting to join the dinner. "Rabbi, do you have room for me?"
"I'm sorry, we're completely full."
"Rabbi, you are Chabad, right? How do you, as a Chabad rabbi, turn a Jew away from experiencing Shabbat?"
How do I answer that?!
Some of these people were incredibly determined. Many people without a ticket showed up and just sat in any empty seat. Assigned seating? Apparently it didn't bother them and they assumed the person whose seat they took would just take someone else's assigned and paid-for seat!
In fact, the assigned seating created its own problems. One woman emailed asking to sit with a particular friend, but the "friend" emailed in no uncertain terms that she absolutely will not sit with her! When the first woman arrived and realized she wasn't seated with her friend, she was fuming.
Again and again, who gets the blame when people are upset? Who can they yell at? The rabbi, of course!
But then I realized, there's an important lesson here: If where we sit for two hours is so vital, how much more careful we should be about where and with whom we spend 70 years of our lives!
Moreover, we often don't appreciate things until we can't have them. When the event is sold out, it becomes much more attractive. When I can't have something, it becomes that much more valuable.
We are about to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Each year, it's as if we are receiving the Torah all over again—this year for the 3328th time. This will be a grand event, unlike any other. The Torah is more precious than anything else in our lives. We will stay awake all night in anticipation and excitement!
Now, unlike our Shabbat dinner, G-d's event will never be sold out, and He'll always have room for one more.
But don't wait until the last minute to get your seat for this grand event.
Start planning now.
Book your ticket! Come to shul! Do a Mitzvah! Prepare yourself to receive the ultimate gift—G-d's Torah.