Let’s cut to the chase. The more expectations you have in life, the more miserable you will be. This is a simple fact of life. And the converse is also true. The less expectations you have in life, the happier you will be. But it goes beyond just happiness. It’s also about gaining the most precious things in life. And the less you expect them, the more of them you will get.
This is the lesson of Shavuot. And this is the lesson of the NHL playoffs. It’s what is going on right now in the National Hockey League as well as in the NBA. But I am not going to talk about the Miami Heat a) because I am no maven in Basketball and b) I really don’t have that much of an interest other than the parallel underdog stories playing out in both Dade and Broward Counties.
So let’s talk hockey. The Boston Bruin organization and their fan base experienced a great misery a few short weeks ago. When the Bruins finished the regular season, they were soooo good. They were light years ahead of every other team. They finished the season with an .823 point percentage which broke a regular season record. Their goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed) was a plus 128. For comparisons sake, the next top teams in the standings were +53,+65,+57. Boston was a winning machine and had only 12 regulation losses out of 82 games. They basically steamrolled their way through the season.
And so when they met the 8th seeded Florida Panthers in the first round of the hockey playoffs it was a foregone conclusion that they would win. All but 1 of 20 hockey mavens over on Sportsnet (Canada) predicted as much. And it certainly looked that way when they went up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. But then the Panthers won the next three games and the Boston Bruins’ world came crashing down.
In a way I feel bad for the Bruins (well, not really) because they were in a no-win situation. Because they were so good, anything short of hoisting the Stanley Cup would have been a failure. Everybody expected them to win. They were literally in a league of their own. Once the playoffs began they had only one option: To win it all. And the further they would be from that lofty goal, the bigger the disappointment. And that is exactly what happened when they were bounced in Round 1.
Florida, on the other hand, was at the exact opposite extreme. They barely squeaked into the playoffs and only made it in the final week of the season. Nobody expected them to get past the mighty Bruins, nor the Leafs afterwards or to sweep Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals and head to the Stanley Cup Finals.
But that’s how it goes: The less expectations you have in life, the happier you will be, and the more you will get. Which brings us to Shavuot which begins on Thursday night and celebrates God giving the Torah to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai.
Shavuot, and its holiday predecessor, Pesach have the same message. The Egyptians were the Boston Bruins of the ancient world. They were the powerhouse who enslaved the feeble, 8th-seeded Israelites. And although they had a good run during the regular season, when the playoffs began and the Israelite’s star player, God, hopped over the boards, it was series over.
When the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, it was given at an empty and desolate place in the desert. It had to be a desert to drive home this very point: The less expectations you have in life, the happier you will be, and the more you will get. As the Midrash, quoted by Rabbeynu Bachya says, “Why was the Torah given in a desert? To tell you that a person cannot seize and acquire the Torah unless they make themselves hefker, ownerless like the desert.”
Torah cannot be learnt, internalized and change you if there are pre-conceived agendas, notions, assumptions and expectations. A person has to be Hefker – ownerless, a nothing, a zero. Then and only then can they acquire the most precious gift of God.
If you’re riding high and think so much of yourself and your successes, then you’re Boston and you are setting yourself up for failure. You will never drink from the Cup of Torah. But if you have zero expectations, work hard, stay true, have integrity, do your due diligence, make the effort, stick to the plan and push out the exterior noise and predictions of failure – then you’re the Panthers and only greatness and success will result.
Be humble, be hefker/ownerless, be like a desert so you will be open to all of God’s Good and Truth and you too will be at the foot of Mount Sinai in a moment even greater than hoisting the Stanley Cup over your head.
Last game of the playoff too!
Oh take me where the hockey players face off down the rink
And the Stanley Cup is all filled up for the champs who win the drink
Oh! The good ol’ Hockey game is the best game you can name
And the best game you can name is the good ol’ Hockey game
-Stompin’ Tom Conners