SETTING GOALS AND SCORING GOALS
At the time of writing, England is still in the Euros and the quarterfinal match against Ukraine will be played in Italy on Shabbat afternoon. Perhaps some extra devotion may be evident in the Shabbat morning prayers this week!
For those nations already eliminated, the post mortem has begun. Why did they not perform as well as expected?
Whilst football has its dramas of a side rising to unexpected heights on the day and winning an unpredicted victory, the majority of times it will be the form that the team has displayed throughout the year that will be best indicator of success.
There is a fascinating discussion in the Midrash (cited in the introduction to Ein Yaakov) that illustrates this idea. The rabbis debate:
Which verse in the Torah is most fundamental or most all-encompassing?
The sage, Ben Zoma, was of the view that it is the verse, Shema Yisrael… “Listen, Israel, the L-d is our G-d, the L-d He is one.” This is a foundational expression of Jewish monotheism. We believe in one, all-powerful G-d, who created everything.
The sage, Ben Nanas, held that the verse, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” is the basis of Jewish life. All our interpersonal relationships spread out from our integrating this mantra into our lives.
Both of these approaches: the vertical axis, linking us with G-d, or the horizontal axis linking us with our fellow human being, are worthy contenders for the top verse slot.
However, the Midrash surprises us by voting for the third option, cited by Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi. He quotes the verse from the passage in this week’s parasha dealing with the daily sacrifices: “You shall prepare one lamb in the morning and the other towards evening.”
The point that R Shimon ben Pazi is making is that what counts most is consistent performance. The offering was a ritual that never stopped. Weekday, holiday, festival or fast, whatever else was going on, the offering in the Temple, morning and afternoon, was always there.
It may be trite to say, “I’ll always be there for you” but the aspiration to be consistent and persistent, whatever the obstacles, is what marks out the path to best practice. We may rise to tremendous heights of inspiration in proclaiming our faith in G-d. We may be moved to magnificent acts of kindness towards our neighbours. But these may well turn out to be a flash-in-the-pan if they are not supported from a bedrock of consistent performance. Whether it is the Euros or our personal lives, the discipline of daily routine may seem boring but ultimately it is the best guide to success.