The summer was dominated with the great spectacle of the Rio Olympics.An opportunity to see athletes in peak fitness, the very best competed to become crowned as champions.
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of Rio Olympics was the Triathlon event which was dominated by two brothers from Yorkshire in England, Alistair Brownlee who won the event and his brother Jonny who was silver medallist. This week saw them compete in the Triathlon World series in Mexico. A gruelling 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km cycle and finally a 10km run all under the most hot and humid conditions. The event shouldn’t have made the headlines, and the video of them finishing no one would have expected to go viral, yet it did due to the unprecedented manner in which they completed the race.
With 700m to the finish line disaster struck Jonny who was on the verge of winning the race. He was totally dehydrated due to the intensity of the 33 degree heat and suffering from exhaustion. His legs started to wobble so much so that it became clear he simply couldn’t carry on. His brother Alistair together with the other runners were catching him up and Jonny was frozen to the spot his legs wouldn’t move. His brother Alistair was faced with a moral dilemma and had to make a split decision. Should he continue to race past his struggling brother to the finish line, there were medical staff on hand to assist him and thereby win the race or to give up on his personal ambition and help his brother finish the race. Despite training and preparing for the last year to win and being intensely competitive it wasn’t a question in Alistair’s mind as he recounted later. He put his brother’s arm around his neck and arm in arm he carried his brother over the finish line, enabling them to finish second and third respectively. The cameras and the world’s media clambered around them as they collapsed to the ground ignoring the new champion. This was something unprecedented, there was even an unsuccessful appeal to have Jonny disqualified for having an unfair advantage at being helped by his brother.
Reflecting from his hospital bed after the race Jonny Brownlee said ““Alistair had the chance to win but threw that away to help me out, I’ll be thankful for the rest of my life.
“Obviously it takes a very strong and good person to do that. Sometimes in sport we talk about winning being the most important thing in the world. A lot of times it is, but maybe helping a brother out was more important.”
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, it is a welcome opportunity for reflection and introspection on the lives we lead. The long blast of the Shofar symbolises that drive and ambition to achieve and accomplish our potential our goals and dreams. But whilst doing so it is punctured by the Teruah the broken crying sound, symbolising the cry for help and assistance from others. It is crucial for us to consider as we approach Rosh Hashanah whether we have struck the right balance in our lives. The balance between the Tekiah and Teruah between focusing on self -achievement and stopping along that path of personal accomplishment to assist others to hear their cry for help. Ensuring that we both are driven to achieve and grow spiritually in the year as well as giving a helping hand to supporting others will ensure as a nation we are all winners this coming year.
Hashem strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not heed them, as Hashem had spoken to Moshe (9:13)
One of the most basic axioms in human existence is that of freewill the ability to be able to make conscious decisions and to decide to some extent our fate. The entire principle of reward and punishment, for the choices we make hinges on this principle. Yet the hardening of Pharaohs heart by Hashem seems to undermine and call into question not only the principle of freewill but in addition the ability we have at any point in time to do teshuva, to repent from our misdeeds which as a result of Hashem intervention pharaoh seems to have forgone.
Rambam (1135-1204) avers that at the outset man is free to choose any path or action he so desires. He is afforded equal opportunity to do good or evil. But as soon as he has made his first choice, then the opportunities facing him are no longer so evenly balanced. The more he persists in the first path of his choosing, shall we say the evil path, the harder it will become for him to revert to the good path even though his essential freedom of choice is unfettered. In other words, it is not the Almighty who has hampered his freedom, and made the path of repentance difficult. He has, by his own choice and persistence in evil, placed obstacles in the way leading back to reformation.G-d had built this response as it were into man’s make-up. The more he chooses to err and sin the more his sins act as a barrier between him and repentance.
It is not just pharaoh that felt a compulsion to continue his wickedness in enslavement of our people to the bitter end, in our own society so many youngsters have turned to life of crime with a sense that they have no other options open to them as a result the downward spiral continues. It is incumbent on government and society to ensure no matter how far one has veered there is always an opportunity of reformation and reintegration as a member of society.
The book of Jonah is perhaps the focal point of the afternoon of Yom Kippur . The story is one we are all familiar with. The prophet Jonah is instructed by G-d to warn the people to turn back from their evil ways but his calls to them went unheeded and he attempts to flee from his Divine mission/higher calling . He finds himself on a boat that is caught up in a fierce storm that was raging unabated. On introspection he realises G-d is calling him from on High and he insists on being thrown into the sea.
The Yalkut Shimoni( 13 century Medrash) offers a deep and profound insight into this fascinating story in Yonahs life which can be applied to us all.
The Vilna Gaon teaches that Jonah’s journey symbolises the journey we all make. We are born with a subconscious realisation of the fact we have a mission . Often we seek to escape , because our mission is one that we are afraid to attempt.
In the text of the story the places Jonah sought were Yaffo and Tarshish. Rebbetzen Heller, a contemporary lecturer, observes that the literal meaning of the names of these cities are beauty and wealth. We comfort ourselves externally by escaping from our inner knowledge of our mission in life through the pursuit of wealth and surrounding ourselves with beauty. Our bodies are compared to Jonah ‘s ship in the rough waves of the challenges that life throws at us, for example illness The sailors on the ship symbolise the talents and capacities that serve us. as with Jonah who is cast into the sea, we realise they too cannot save us from our futile desire to escape ourselves.
It is on Yom Kippur afternoon when we are weak from fasting and at our most vulnerable that the judgement and fate for us and our people comes to a close as it is precisely in such a fragile state that we are able to finally transcend our ego, surrendering our desire to control life and submitting at last to accepting our mission whatever it is.