Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday's Musings on Sports - Linsanity, Pharaoh & Nineveh

Over the last week, New York area basketball has been gripped by a phenomenon known as "Linsanity." It all started on February 4, 2012. The Knicks had lost five of their last six games and were playing their cross-river (soon to be intracity) rivals, the New Jersey Nets. The Nets entered the game with a record of 8-16, only one half game behind the Knicks who were 8-15. The game had enormous potential repercussions as there were rumors that if the Knicks lost the game, they would be firing their coach. The Nets also saw a potential for upwards mobility in the eyes of New York Metro area basketball fans as they had been playing consistent .500 basketball and were moving up the ranks of the NBA Eastern Conference.

The Nets quickly raced out to a twelve point lead and were leading the game 30-20 at the end of the First Quarter. Then the Knicks substituted in Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American backup point guard who had played his college basketball at Harvard. Lin took control of the game and out played all star point guard Deron Williams. After defeating the Nets, the Knicks won their next five games and Lin out played NBA luminaries including Devon Harris and Kobe Bryant.

Suddenly, the second year player who had been unwanted in Golden State was the talk of the NBA world. One particular comment by Magic Johnson caught my attention. Johnson commented (I paraphrase) that talent like Lin's does not come out of nowhere, but sometimes needs the right opportunity to reveal itself.

Magic Johnson's comment made me think of a question that I heard raised about Pharaoh and Hashem's hardening of Pharaoh's heart after the fifth plague. The question is asked - why did Hashem harden Pharaoh's heart and not allow him to repent? The answer given is that Pharaoh needed to hit bottom, to see that to argue with Hashem is pointless. In order to learn his lesson, Pharaoh needed to lose everything so that when he was faced with the same situation again, he would immediately respond to the warning and repent. Had Pharaoh been allowed to repent before the fifth plague, he would not have learned his lesson and would not have been able to save a nation from destruction. When was Pharaoh put in this position that he could use his knowledge gleaned in Egypt to save a nation from destruction? The answer lies in the Yona story that we read on Yom Kippur.

As told over in Nach, Yona arrives in Nineveh after having been spat out by the fish. When Yona comes to Nineveh, he tells the people that they need to repent. The King of Nineveh immediately complies and puts on sackcloth and convinces the other townspeople to repent. The question is - why would the King listen to this prophet who comes out of nowhere and tells him that Hashem is angry because the people are not acting properly? It would be more logical for the King to say - who are you? Or at the very least, the King should say to Yona - prove to me that you are telling the truth. Yet, the King does none of the above and instead leads a massive teshuva movement.

The answer to the question is that the King of Nineveh had been through this once before, as the role of King of Nineveh was his second position in royalty. The medrash writes that previously, the King of Nineveh had been Pharaoh in Egypt. Having learned his lesson from ignoring the Jews and Moshe's warning of destruction, the King of Nineveh/former Pharaoh of Egypt knew that this was not something to be ignored and his knowledge (when placed in the right situation) allowed a nation to be saved.

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