Here is a summary of the talk I delivered at last year’s Shavuot service which I believe can assist us in getting ready for this upcoming festival.
SHAVUOT AND REFLECTIONS FROM A HALF MARATHON!
I have found a number of fascinating connections between the Festival of Shavuot and running a half marathon. After all, it is a long race and one has plenty of time to think! So here are a few.
Firstly, as the saying goes, there is no gain without pain. This is very true regarding a marathon and also true regarding the Torah. In order for a person to infuse their life with meaning, morality and inspiration, much time, energy and effort have to be invested into the acquisition of spiritual wisdom and the application of that wisdom to our lives. Receiving the Torah doesn’t come easy! In fact, we are told that one reason this festival is called Zman Matan Torateinu – the time of the giving of the Torah as opposed to Zman Kabalat Torateinu – the time of the receiving of the Torah, is because it is one thing to give something to another. It is quite another to truly receive, internalise, value and appreciate the real beauty of that gift.
The second point of comparison is this. There are two ways to increase your speed in preparation for a big race. One is called interval training where you slowly build up speed over short distances before sustaining that speed into longer intervals. The other? To train with a partner. Something amazing happens when you run alongside another person. You will find that you tend to match the other person’s speed and sustain it for longer periods than you would have if running alone. The same applies to Torah. It is great to take time out of your day and learn by yourself. But even better is to pair yourself with a partner and learn together. You will find your learning to be so much deeper and more effective as you test your arguments out loud, refine your ideas and open your mind to new pathways of thinking.
Third, is the power of a simple helpful prod.
At about the fifteen Kilometre mark of last year’s race I started to feel quite tired (no surprise!). I had started the race quite hard and was now feeling the effects of over-exertion. All I wanted to do was stop but my mind was telling me to keep going and finish. Yet my legs were winning this debate as my pace dropped to nearly a walk and the other runners began to fly past me. Until I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. I glanced to the side and saw a woman run past me with a smile on her face. “Come on”, she said to me, “You can do it! There is not much more to go so just hang in there.” She continued to run.
I must admit that this small action gave me that surge of energy that I so desperately needed. I felt inspired that someone had noticed my pain and had made the effort to reach out to me with encouragement and care. I felt that I was not alone in the race and with renewed vigour, I continued onwards. For the next six kilometres, as many other runners experienced fatigue, I noticed that each time someone stopped, others would call out to them with encouragement and they too, were able to pick up their pace and eventually finish. I was truly inspired by the team spirit and care shown by so many runners towards each other. At the end of my race, I searched for and found this woman and I thanked her for the good deed that she performed that helped me finish the race.
I believe that the same applies with Torah. It was the great Rabbi Akivah who said: “Love your fellow as yourself. This is the greatest principle of the entire Torah”. What this means is that if we wish to truly exemplify what it means to be a Jew and live authentic Torah lives, we have to show care for others and treat everyone around us with love and respect. If we notice that someone at work, at home or at Shule doesn’t appear to be their normal self, we must take the time to go over to them to enquire of their wellbeing. A simple “Are you okay?” may not seem to be a lot but it may mean so much to the other person.
Here are just three simple lessons that i have gleaned from my race. But there is one more vital bit of advice. You must stay hydrated! So let’s drink in the many lessons that Shavuot has to offer and may we RECEIVE the Torah this year with joy and abundant blessing.Wishing you and your families Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!!
Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman