Gilad Shalit, a lifelong avid sports fan who was held by captive by Hamas for years, is coming to the US to observe the NBA finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has been sent to the US by Yediot Ahronot, a leading Israeli newspaper, to bring back a report on the championship.
I heard this news during the very week we read Parshas Shelach in Synagogue. A comparison between the Parsha and Galit is nothing short of eerie.
In the Parsha Moses sent spies to the Land of Canaan. They returned forty days later and reported that the land flowed with milk and honey. The bad news, they said, was that the people were huge, the sons of giants who made them feel like grasshoppers. Were they really giants and were the children of Israel really so small?
David, as he faced Goliath, is certainly depicted as small, albeit extremely athletic. Some Jews certainly are, to put it mildly, diminutive. Dr. Ruth for example is only four foot eight inches tall, only slightly less than some of the senior members of our shul who, even when standing, cannot peep over the mechitzah. I don’t know how tall Gilad is, but after five years captivity in Gaza, he certainly looks anything but robust, to say the least.
The question remains as to whether the people the spies saw were really giants or just scary. The bible tells us that Goliath was nine feet tall, but the people of Canaan? Unlikely. This is not to deny that giants can exist. The Guinness Book of World Records has as the world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow at eight feet, eleven inches with Leonid Staknyk only seven inches less.. As to the rest of us, we all seem to be getting taller. Humans in general are 1.9 inches taller than we were in 1900, but very few of us are giants.
If giants exist among us, several of them will certainly be in the NBA playoffs this year. The average height of the players on the Miami Heat is six feet, seven inches. Unlike poor Leonid Stanyk, who can hardly walk now, the Heat and the Thunder have skilled, agile, fast, gifted athletes on the court, and there will be Gilad Shalit to observe and report to us.
It is difficult to believe that the giants of Nephilin in the land of Canaan were as tall or intimidating as the giants of sport today. In Shelach, the spies from the Children of Israel saw a wonderful country that was inhabited by strong, tall people. Unfortunately they exaggerated, misinterpreted and misrepresented what they had seen. Gilad will do none of these things. This heroic, much loved child of modern Israel, will observe the giants of the NBA, report back accurately and without exaggeration.
I personally look forward to reading what he has to say.
Anthony Rebuck, under the name Shlomo ben Yitzhak haLevi, is the author of “A Sportsman’s Guide to the Torah”. He is a former Professor of Medicine.