Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Superseding Societal Conventions

And He (Hashem) took him (Avraham Avinu) outside, and said, "Gaze, now, towards the heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them" And he said to him, "So shall your offspring be" - Breishis 15:5
And He took him outside - according to its Midrashic interpretation [Hashem] said to [Avraham] "go out from your astrology which you have seen by the signs of the zodiac that you are not destined to bear a son... - Rashi ad loc., Artscroll Sapirstein edition translation

It is vitally important to periodically step outside ourselves and our society and objectively assess ourselves. Societal assumptions and axioms, follies and foibles often, in ways that go undetected, impose patterns of thought and behavior on a wide range of individuals. Even individuals who do not completely identify with the surrounding society or culture are not necessarily immune. Thus Hakadosh Baruch Hu tells Avraham Avinu, step outside the astrological axioms of society and recognize that these axioms are limiting your faith. Their astrological axioms are not yours; they constrain and contradict your beliefs. And our patriarch responds to the challenge, "and he trusted/believed in Hashem" (ibid 15:6.)

"Tze'ee loch b'ikvei haTzon" (Shir Hashirim 1:8) - follow in the footsteps of the patriarchs - this is the directive Shlomo Hamelech imparts to us. So let us too, for a brief moment, "step outside."

As outsiders let us attend a professional sporting event. What do we experience? Even as outsiders we might share the insider's perspective. The intense competition can be gripping, even thrilling. The athleticism on display, replete with extraordinary grace and commensurate skill, possesses a definite aesthetic quality. If the sporting event happens to be a baseball game and we possess the poetic imagination of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, we would see a metaphor for the, "impulse to go out and back, to leave and return home." (Although I wonder how many, if any, share this imaginative Giamattian perspective on baseball). Even the venue itself, magnificent stadiums, can be particularly impressive.

But as outsiders we would see and experience much, much more. The amount of time squandered on watching and discussing sporting events is staggering. The seriousness surrounding meaningless games and the degree to which people are invested in their local teams attest to a profoundly worrisome, vacuous, and meaningless dimension in people's lives. These phenomena become magnified when there is extra hype and buzz about a particular game. As objective outsiders it becomes very difficult to regard watching games, and in particular the hyped games, as a healthy, innocuous form of entertainment. It seems more like a moshav leitzim.

As outsiders we are probably already reeling, but our honest report is not yet finished. If we are watching a football game, we are horrified by the violence which forms the very fabric of the game. (This is also true of the fighting and, at times, vicious body checks in hockey.) On the football field we refer to the contact between large, incredibly powerful athletes as competitive blocking and tackling. On the stage of life, we refer to it less euphemistically as brutal, vicious attacks! As outsiders we see that the spectators have, at least, become inured to, and, at worst, thrive on the violence. All the aesthetic virtues of athleticism do nothing to diminish the sheer violence of the sport. We have no need to delve into an erudite discussion of the Mishna (Bava Kamma 92a) regarding one who invites another to maim him. We simply intuitively feel and know that violent athletics are not a healthy or acceptable form of entertainment for ourselves or our children.

And finally as outsiders we are simply embarrassed and sullied by all the immodest images to which spectators are exposed. We are unable to justify to ourselves the issurim involved in viewing such images.

This concludes today's brief excursion. Hopefully, b'siyata d'Shmaya, our excursion will stimulate thought, discussion, and appropriate change.

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