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Blessed Week Ever

Topic: Kabbalistic Concepts | Posted:May 23, 2017

It’s late May, which means that everywhere deeply devout people are setting aside their earthly affairs, donning sacred garments, and congregating to observe one of the truly awesome religious celebrations of our day: the NBA playoffs.

If you think I’m joking, stop and think for a moment what happens when your favorite team ascends to the post-season’s final rounds, a pleasure that I, being a fan of the New York Knicks, don’t have to worry much about. When your team is in pursuit of the ultimate trophy, you get superstitious. You put on your favorite shirt or hat or scarf. You beg whatever higher power you believe in to reach down and intervene. And then, when the games begin, you inevitably experience a moment of theological awe.

You may not recognize it as such, but that is precisely what makes sports so appealing: on the court or the pitcher’s mound or the gridiron, athletes give us the opportunity to consider questions and experience emotions that are otherwise far too weighty for us to bear. Like the following: is it fair for an otherwise excellent team of highly skilled and impeccably trained professionals to work extremely hard for an entire year and then lose everything just because they’ve had a couple of off games or because someone had a stroke of bad luck and got injured? Moments like these happen in American sports all the time. Unlike, say, European soccer, where the championship is granted to the team whose overall performance throughout the entire season stood out the most—and which this year, in the English Premiere League, happened to be my team, Chelsea—American sports are predicated on the play-off system, and the play-off system means that with just one slip-up, your dreams of glory are over. How is that fair? How is that right? And why do we keep watching so religiously? To answer that question, we need to turn to an unlikely source, this week’s Torah portion.

Ending the Bible’s book of Leviticus, the portion is named Bechukotai, which is Hebrew for “by my decrees.” If you read it literally—which the old kabbalist masters, bless their soul, rarely do—you’ll see that it’s all about God describing the punishments and rewards He’ll mete out to the Israelites, depending on whether they obey or ignore His commandments. But if you truly want to understand what it means—and how it explains not only the NBA but so much of life as well—you really only have to read the portion’s first sentence.

Here’s how it begins: “If you follow my statutes and obey my commandments and perform them, I will give you rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.”

It’s really only the third word of that first sentence that stands out: follow. In the original Hebrew, the word, telchu, literally means “walk.” Which is a strange thing for God to say. Why “walk” in the path of my statutes? Why not be clearer? Why not merely say obey, or else? “Walk” is a peculiar choice of words, which means that the text is trying to teach us a lesson. A lesson about paths.

Because God knows something about paths, something He’d like us to realize as well. He knows that life isn’t about blind obedience. If it were, we’d be miserable creatures devoid of any free will and called upon to perform the same mechanical devotions in the same precise way every day. We’d be religious robots, and there’s no fun or, truly, any meaning in that. Instead, God gives us something more magical: each morning of each day, He brings down into our own world a new way to connect with one another, a new way to see the world, a new light to guide our way.

It’s a radical idea: because no day is like the other, it means that the spiritual framework, the spiritual pathways, the spiritual wisdom, the spiritual understanding that exists today is also brand new. It did not exist yesterday, and it will be gone tomorrow. Rav Isaac Luria, one of the greatest kabbalists of all time, taught us that if you understand this concept, you also understand that the spiritual work that you do has to change from day to day. The Creator brings down new teachings with each dawn, and to connect to Him you, too, must find new paths.

At first blush, this may sound terrifying! Imagine, say, being a tourist in a new city and trying to navigate it with a map that’s a hundred years old. You’ll be frustrated and confused, because few of the buildings and landmarks your map suggests you visit even exist anymore. But being a spiritual person is nothing like being a tourist. It’s not about visiting the same sites others do, or going about the same tired routine again and again. Being a spiritual person is about figuring out your own path to happiness and fulfillment, and that path is not only incredibly unique—your path looks nothing like mine—but also ever-changing. To follow it, you need to wake up each morning with the joyful knowledge that today, the Creator has put in place new connections and new wisdom just for you, as well as a pressing desire to make these connections and drink in that wisdom before they disappear. This is just as true for life’s dark moments as it is for times of joy. Why did this bad thing happen to you today? Why this setback, this defeat, this disappointment? Whatever happened, no matter how big or how small, it happened because the Creator knows that in order for your soul to find that new pathway that is available today, you needed to go through that detour. It’s that simple, and that profound.

Which brings us back to the NBA. The genius of the play-off system is its ability to recognize the very same principle that the old kabbalists understood so well. Life isn’t soccer; it’s not a slow and steady progression in one given direction. Life is constantly happening, and sometimes the path that is just for us leads us through some pretty wild detours. Ask LeBron James, for example, what it was like to leave his first team in Cleveland, win a championship with an all-star crew in Miami, return to Ohio, lose the ring to Steph Curry and the Warriors, and then, a year later, return in glorious fashion to finally bring pride back home. LeBron followed his path. He realized that each day had its own potential, and that each day demanded its own unique work. He realized that life wasn’t just a long and linear slog, walking a straight line, but a wild adventure that begins again every time we wake up. He had the passion and the wisdom, and he never stopped looking for his path. If you want to be a true champion, you should do the same.

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The Creator is only constantly in the state of Goodness, and never in the state of seeing what is wrong. Read more: https://t.co/NHD1PQ5a34
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