The Target Shipping Snafu and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma
As cleanup from Harvey continues and Irma moves across South Florida, like many, I have been trying to make meaning from these dramatic weather events happening in such close proximity to one another.
If you've spent more than five minutes on Twitter, Facebook or other social media, you’ve probably heard any number of theories about what caused these twin tragedies. I don’t even want to list any of them here.
My husband is fond of saying that many people are often quick to blame these tragedies on the actions of others (generally people with whom they disagree politically, religiously or socially) and are less willing to look at themselves. It made me wonder, what can I personally take from these two major hurricanes coming so close together? To answer that, I want to start by telling a story.
As is likely known by every former American living in Israel, a few weeks ago, a company called BorderFree offered an amazing deal – free shipping to Israel from Target. Facebook went nuts with the news. Target is probably the Number 2 thing missed by most American immigrants to Israel. (Of course, the Number 1 thing is friends and family. And decent kosher Chinese food. And public libraries with books in English. But I digress…)
BorderFree was overwhelmed. Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 orders were placed over the weekend that the offer was valid. Based on reports, a huge number of people ordered American snack foods that are generally not available in Israel.
For logistical reasons not relevant to this post, the vast majority of the orders were cancelled by BorderFree. Consequently, some people went berserk on social media. Typical comments included assertions like: “We should sue!” “I’ll never shop in Target again!” and “My neighbor got her order and I didn’t get mine. It’s SO UNFAIR!!”
What connection am I making between Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and tens of thousands of people who were distraught because they didn’t get their boxes of Froot Loops and bags of Mike and Ikes? It is this – both the hurricanes and the BorderFree/Target snafu come to teach the same lesson.
Everything in the material world is transitory. People invested so much emotion into their order from Target that they were actually furious when it was cancelled. People spend a lifetime investing in a home and its decorative touches and its furnishings and it’s all washed away or blown away in 30 minutes of hurricane force winds and storm surges.
Not the same scale, but the same message. Everything in the material world is transitory.
What does that message mean to me? It helps me refocus my energy. Worry less about stuff-stuff and more about things that have eternal significance, like my soul.
In Judaism, there is a constant tension between the material and the spiritual. In Judaism, we are taught to uplift the material and use it in service of the spiritual. For example, challah on Friday night is yummy, but the blessing of hamotzi reminds us that bread comes from God even before it comes from the bakery shelf or our mixing bowl.
The Elokai Neshama prayer is part of the traditional morning blessings. It speaks about how the soul is pure. This simple prayer recognizes that it was God who put our souls in us and it is God who will take our souls from us. It praises God for whatever time we have when the soul and the body are connected.
Times of great fear and loss are like the period of Elul in which we find ourselves. In both cases, we are reminded to refocus on things that are eternal, things that have lasting significance, things that are real.
Whether it’s the cheap mascara I didn’t get from Target or the loss of a mature mango tree in the front yard or, God forbid, the loss of a family home, I am reminded that everything in the material world is transitory.
And that helps me concentrate on what is enduring.
And my soul.
Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below to share.
How can we theolgically understand natural disasters? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 700 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.