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June 5, 2013 1:35 pm

Sportsmen or Spectators?

avatar by Yossy Goldman

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Kaiserslautern striker Italy Schechter. Photo: therealfutbol.com.

Are you a spectator or a participant? Will you only watch your favorite English club play, or do you sometimes kick a ball yourself?

A few years ago, it was decided to widen the seats at Wimbledon. Apparently, the problem was rather simple – obesity. It appears that the fans that admire the tennis stars in action don’t get much exercise.  The Chairman of the British Sports Council was prompted to state, “If only the admirers of sport would practice it themselves.”

The Parsha (Bible portion) this week is named after Korach, cousin of Moses and a revolutionary who attempted to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron. His ill-fated rebellion came to a bitter end when the earth opened and swallowed Korach and his followers, demonstrating to all that Moses and Aaron were truly chosen by G-d.

But why name a Parsha of the Torah after a villain? Korach was a sinner and is surely not a role model for us to emulate.

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My saintly teacher and mentor, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing) will be observed on Tuesday, offered a novel approach. There is one area, where Korach can, indeed, be a good role model. What was Korach’s burning desire in life? It was to be a Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. He coveted Aaron’s position of honor.

Now, being a High Priest meant much more than just fame and fortune, glory or privilege. Many sacred responsibilities came with the job. It was no easy task to be a Kohen Gadol. There were numerous restrictions; where he could go, what kind of activities he could be involved in, whom he could marry, etc, etc. Yet, Korach was absolutely single-minded in his aspiration to become the High Priest.

Said the Rebbe, this is something we can all learn from Korach; the yearning to serve G-d in the holiest capacity, the craving to be a Kohen Gadol. Would it be that all of us shared similar aspirations to holiness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each one of us longed for a life of sanctity dedicated to the service of G-d?

How often we are only too happy to allow others to handle the sacred stuff. “You can put on Tefillin for me, Rabbi.” And your Bobba (grandmother) can keep kosher for you and the Board of Deputies can fight anti-Semitism for you and the Lubavitchers will save the world for you. And what will you yourself do? Watch them?

It is interesting that in many parts of the world much of the financial support for religious institutions comes from people who, themselves, are not religious.  It has, in fact, been suggested that this phenomenon may well be a form of vicarious Judaism. These are fine people who really do believe in the truth of Judaism but they haven’t got sufficient commitment to practice it themselves. Nor do they believe their own children will do it. Who then will defend the faith and perpetuate Judaism and the Jewish people? So they sponsor a religious institution to do it for them.

I recall hearing a pertinent story from the late Prof Velvel Greene of Ben Gurion University. A young man signed up to join the paratroopers. On his first training flight the instructor has him in his parachute huddled at the door of the airplane and starts counting down.  5, 4,3,2,1, – “JUMP!” The candidate is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t move. “OK, it happens to the best of us,” says the instructor sympathetically. “We’ll try again.” The second attempt, however, is no better than the first; nor the third or the fourth. The would-be paratrooper is simply too petrified to jump. Exasperated, the instructor asks him, “Tell me, son, if you are so scared to jump why on earth do you want to join the paratroopers?” The young man answered, “It’s true. I am scared out of my wits. But I just love to be around people who are not afraid.”

So let’s all be more than mere spectators. It is wonderful to support and encourage the activists among us. But let us learn from Korach who wanted so badly to be a High Priest himself. Let’s not be content with watching others. Let each of us participate in the Jewish idea. And let us do it personally.

Excerpted from the book From Where I Stand by Rabbi Yossy Goldman. Available at leading Jewish booksellers.

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