The Purple Sheet
Shabbat Parshat Achrei Mot – May 6th/7th 2016 – כ’ט ניסן תשע’ו
Left for Dead
Perhaps the greatest story in the history of all sports occurred this past week … and most Americans were completely unaware of it. I speak of course (or not) of the English Premier League Championship win by the Leicester (pronounced Lester) City Football Club. Now, I will fully admit that the only reason I know from such things is because I happen to be married to a Brit. And just as I have passed on the (sad) tradition of following the Toronto Maple Leafs to most of my kids, so too they have adopted the Arsenal Football Club (The Gunners) and are quite familiar with English soccer thanks to their mother. So there we were -Yoni, Moishe, Karen and even I, last Sunday watching the Leicester City Foxes tie Manchester United and earn a point which would get them closer to the title that they secured soon after when second place Tottenham choked and could not hold onto their 2-0 lead against Chelsea.
Now here is the thing that Americans (and Canadians) don’t get about English Football/Soccer. There are no playoffs. I know, how silly. But when you think about it, a bit more pure in its method of crowning a victor. How often have we (well, me) seen a hot goalie steal a Stanley Cup in front of a mediocre team all year long? The Beezer almost did it for the Panthers in their Stanley Cup run back in 1996 and newbie Ken Dryden did it for the Canadiens when he burst onto the scene back in the 70’s. And here is the other kicker (pun intended) about English soccer. The real lousy teams get kicked out of the top tier if they finish in the bottom three of the league. Yeah, it’s like the Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Knicks all tossed out of the NBA this year and replaced by minor league teams while they get relegated. It’s like Sports Gehinnom/Hell as punishment for being so bad.
So this Leicester team was in this Soccer Purgatory until last year and even then, they ended up near the bottom of the league but not at the very bottom to get sent down again. And then, lo and behold, this year they turn it around and at 5000-1 odds of winning the championship, they pull it off. Just to give you a sense of how big those odds are. The “Miracle” USA Olympic hockey team that won gold in the Winter Olympics in 1980 were 1000 to 1 odds against. Like many greater chachams than me of soccer have said, it might very well be the greatest Cinderella story in all of sports.
Over a decade ago I wrote an article about the similarly sad-sack Florida Marlins winning the World Series in 2003. I noted then, that when God created the Universe He created it ‘yesh me’ayin’ — something from nothing. Although we have no idea what “nothing” really is, as we live in a world of something, there is still an important lesson that we can learn about this process.
The creation of the universe came about in an extraordinary fashion as expressed in one of the first prayers we recite every morning: “Blessed is He who spoke and the world came into being.” Everything we see exists because God wills its existence. No more and no less. As such, everything in creation is a total and constant gift from God and everything we have, touch and see — the entire universe — is here only because He wills it to be such. Therefore, anything that reflects the idea of “something from nothing” is an expression of God’s first act of creation. As such, one of the greatest pleasures people experience is when something good happens that was totally unexpected and unforeseen. It is like reliving the first 6-days of Creation. The birth of a baby is a miracle that brings tears of joy despite its frequency because we experience the creation of the most precious thing, life itself, from virtually nothing.
The Talmud says that God sheds tears over three things: 1. Someone who has the potential to study Torah and does not. They have the ability but fritter it away and like a parent, there is nothing more painful than witnessing their beautiful child waste away their talents. 2. Someone who does not have the potential to learn Torah, but does so successfully. These are tears of joy when an unexpected success happens that we could never imagine. And 3, when a leader rules too harshly over his subjects. But it is the second of these three things that touches us, and even God, so deeply. When a great success comes out of left field and totally not anticipated, we along with God shed tears of joy.
But just as wonderful pleasure comes from the unexpected, so too the greatest disappointments occur when there is the expectation and insistence that something ought to be. The more we expect, the less we enjoy. The more we think that things must and should be a certain way, the more we set ourselves up for frustration, disappointment and pain. This is how God made the universe and it is a basic rule of life. Expect nothing and enjoy, or expect everything and forever be unhappy. Yesh me’ayin – Something from Nothing is God-like but nothing from something (I feel entitled to) is Hell.
At the beginning of every Amidah prayer, we talk about the time when God will resurrect the dead. For most it sounds like a creepy idea from a horror movie. But when you think about it, the greatest joys in life are when something seems dead and gone, only to be resurrected and flourishing again with life. There are some things that everyone gives up hope about and thinks will never rise again. The Jewish people personify this notion more than anyone else, for how often have we been written off, only to re-emerge and thrive? This week, Leicester City gave everyone a taste of what this might be like.
Lie where I land let my bones turn to sand
I was born on the lake and I don’t want to leave it
Every eye on the coast ever more
Will remember the sight of the ghost on the shore
Under the waves and the earth of an age
Lie a thousand old northerners’ graves
Deep in the night when the moon’s glowing bright
They come rising up into the night
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
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