Rosh HaShanah and The Zen of Tennis
The US Open Grand Slam tennis tournament is presently taking place in New York. Some fixtures of past years are missing such as Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Other than Djokovic, the field is open to some up-and-coming newer faces.
Whenever I watch any tennis tournament it makes me aware of how bad I am. I am not talking about the men players because they are in a completely different tennis universe. No, I mean the women. It amazes me that some little, skinny teenager can hit the ball way harder and with tons of pace in comparison to my shots. Which just goes to show you that it’s more about form than strength.
The reason I personally love playing tennis is because of the competition to win. It pushes me to exercise more than I would ever do on my own. Last week, even though I was up 4-3 in the second set, I was sooooo tired, running out of gas and wasn’t sure how I could go on. But because I knew I still had a ways to go, I found a second gear to take me to the finish line. If I were just doing any other regular fitness program on my own I probably would have stopped much earlier.
But the main reason I love tennis is that there is really no one else to turn to or blame when trying to succeed. It’s an exercise of pure responsibility for and about yourself. The wind, the sun, the court conditions – everything is the same for you and your opponent on the other side of the net. He or she faces the same wind gusts, the same heat, the same humidity and the same sun in your eyes when you toss the ball to serve.
If you’re playing on second rate courts with cracks or clay courts with clumps that slow the ball down or gives it funny bounces, your opponent has those self-same challenges. There are no quarterbacks, no lineman, no receivers, no goalies, no pitchers and no teammates to blame. It is you versus your opponent, mano a mano. This being the case, if you and your opponent are of a similar level of play, there is no greater expression of will, choice, discipline, consistency and psychological fortitude that determines if you win or lose.
And so it goes for Rosh Hashanah. Rosh HaShanah is יום הדין Judgment Day. It is the birthday of Mankind and God judges each and every person and decides if they are deserved of another year. And if so, how that year is going to go. And when we come before the Judge, we come alone. There is nobody else to turn to. It is you and your life, you and your past, you and your successes and you and your failures. You and God alone – no wind, no sun and no teammates to fall back on.
There is no greater power than the power of personal responsibility. God waits for us to choose and then comes through, or not as the case may be. The old “man proposes God disposes” truism. But we must first do the choosing. As Rav Matis Weinberg used to point out – Rosh HaShanah is not only a judgment on the choices that we have made but also about how much choosing we have done. It is about being a chooser. About being a person who is willing to will.
Because in tennis, just like in life, when it comes down to the fifth set and you have played for over four hours with an opponent who is going toe-to-toe with you and your legs feel like Jello and you are beginning to cramp and you feel you can’t go on – it is no longer a question of skill but one of will. Who will exhibit the greater willingness to keep going. To keep fighting. To keep playing. To not give up and not give in. To choose. To not roll-over and die. To choose Life, as it says in this week’s parsha, ובחרת בחיים “You shall choose Life!”
Rosh HaShanah is Judgement Day. Buts it’s not just Judgement Day on our deeds and actions of good or bad – nobody is perfect and God doesn’t expect as much – but also on our sheer willingness to choose. Because when all is said and done, as human beings, that’s all we have.
Many years ago when Andy Murray won the US Open, he said it took him ten years of hard work to get there. For us it will take just as much time or more. But greatness and Life itself awaits – something even greater than winning a Grand Slam tennis tournament.
I said we’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it
I love this world and I don’t wanna leave it…
Don’t want a long ride
I don’t wanna die at all
I wanna be the man who lives forever
– Lord Huron