Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday's Musings on Sports - Of Einstein, Castro, Tennis and the Divine.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago, I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

This morning when I woke up, my clock radio was set to WCBS (880 AM). Since it was 6:15 AM (got to get to early selichos) I was awoken by the morning sports report. The report featured some discussion on the fact that yesterday's US Open final had been postponed because of rain. The sports anchor mentioned that this was the third year in a row that the Men's final had been postponed due to rain and then he made mention of the famous quote from Albert Einstein that "Coincidence is G-d's way of remaining anonymous."

I'm not really a tennis fan and I could not tell you who won the US Open in any given year, so I really had no clue that it had been rained out for three consecutive years. Still, the reference to the Einstein quote really intrigued me. This was the second time in the last week that I became aware of a major public figure who could have observed G-d's will in an act, but instead attributed it to something other than the hand of G-d.

What was the first reference? On erev Rosh Hashanah, I downloaded a blog post by Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg which detailed his meeting with Fidel Castro (click here for the actual post The main theme coming out of the post was Castro's observations about the nature of the Jews' survival and a sharp criticism of Ahmadinejad's holocaust denial. However an interesting side point was that despite Castro's return from life threatening illness and his cognizance of the Jews' survival through the millennium, he still claimed to be a "dialectical materialist" and as such denied the existence of G-d.

To me, both the Einstein and Castro quotes demonstrate a concerted effort to deny what should be obvious to them. Given Einstein's understanding of science and nature, he should have been fully aware that nothing is truly coincidence. Similarly, Castro's observance of the Jews' ability to survive thousands of years of expulsion and pogroms should have led him to recognize g-d. But he did not make the connection.

I recall hearing a shiur from R' Mansour this summer in which he talked about how Hashem allows disasters as a way to let us know that there are things we need to do to improve our actions. These disasters may take place half a world or just a few miles away, but they are His way of showing us that there are improvements that we need to make. I can recall on the night of September 11, 2001, coming to a shul to try to make sense of the horror. I took to heart a message that these things happened because Hashem wanted us to make changes in our lives, so I accepted at that time to try to daven Maariv with a minyan whenever possible. (Prior to this I would routinely daven in my living room when I came home from work).

I am also reminded of a vort by Rabbi Frand this summer about maa'seh meriva. Rabbi Frand quoted R' Alpert who cited the Rashbam in Chukas about Moshe's act. In this story, Moshe is told to pick up the mateh and then later told to talk to the rock. Ultimately, Moshe is punished for using the staff, rather than speaking to the rock. But why is he told to pick up the staff in the first place? The answer Rabbi Frand gave is that Hashem was trying to teach Moshe a lesson about how to interact with the Jewish people. Hashem instructs - there are two ways to interact and influence the Jews, either by speaking to them or by hitting them. This time, the lesson is that the pen (or in this case the spoken word) is mightier than the sword.

When Hashem tells Moshe to take the staff, Hashem is saying take the staff, but then go and talk to the Jews. Hashem attempts to teach Moshe a lesson - you don't always need the stick, you can have as much impact by speaking. Rabbi Frand concluded that sometime we don't hear the word and as such we need the stick to remind us to repent. However, even when the stick is fairly obvious, some very intelligent people like Einstein or Castro may still choose to ignore it.

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