I am not a sports enthusiast. In fact, I am pretty sure I didn’t even watch the half-time show of the last Superbowl. Yes, I do occasionally attend a baseball game. I usually do watch at least some of the Superbowl, and, usually, at least the half-time show. I do dabble in watching Olympic events, and, once in a blue moon, might watch some non0Olympic ice skating or ice dancing event on television.I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a professional football, basketball or hockey game. As a child and young professional, I enjoyed auto-racing, but I’ve never attended a race. (I do watch the Kentucky Derby but ask me to name a horse other than Secretariat and I’d be stumped. I’ve never been to a horse race live.) I’m barely aware of top sports figures, don’t follow any teams with any gusto or commitment. (I suspect this may change now that I have moved back to NYC, where at least getting to a major or minor league event is easier. On the other hand, I’m pretty much a Mets fan in a Yankee-dominated city, having been in HS the year the Mets won the series for the first time. I actually think NYC Jews should perforce be Mets fans. We have so much in common with them, at least up until the last 50 years or so of our history.)
I am sure there are others out there who can identify with my common discomfort when all around me people are talking sports. I’m glad I don’t work in a typical office or business setting where my non-attention to sports would be outed in a second, and leave me with little to talk about with co-workers when they are talking sports.
Sure, I follow the news, so I have some rough idea of the names of key and popular sports figures. However, besides names like A-Rod and Jeter I would be hard-pressed to name a pro-sports player currently playing. My sports figure vocabulary seems to be stuck in a time warp with names like Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, OJ Simpson, Joe Namath, Fran Tarkenton, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Orr, Richard Petty, Wilt Chamerberlain and Lew Alcindor (err, I mean Kareem Abdul Jabar. He grew up in the same housing project as I did and I’m fairly certain I got to watch him play in our playgrounds.) I think the era/age of most of those names will give you some idea of when I stopped having much interest in professional sports – a long time ago. Sure I know other names like Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and probably dozens of others, but don’t ask for where they played or when (and in some cases, even what they played!
All of which is merely preface to my caveat that using sports metaphors may not be the best way I can convey things. However, damn the torpedoes, I’ll try.
Our parasha, Eikev, in fact, most of the book of D’varim (Deuteronomy) is a locker room speech or a huddle. The Israelites are preparing to cross into the promised land, and despite all the miracles they have experienced still need a pep talk. Yes, there’s an awful lot of negative reinforcement in the words of Torah from this book, but if the reputation of some coaches is accurate, it wouldn’t surprise me to know they used negative reinforcement as a pep-talk technique too. (Personally, I don’t find negative reinforcement particularly effective, but that’s my 21st-century perspective on things. Perhaps negative reinforcement was more effective in ancient times. However, given the stubborn and recalcitrant history of the Jews, I’m led to conclude that it wasn’t all that effective back then.)
“We’re Gonna Win!” “You’re Gonna Win!” That’s the enthusiasm of this last book of the Torah. It’s peppered with a lot of “But to win, you gotta….” Probably not atypical of a locker room pep talk.
The consequences for losing (or for not following G”d’s ways) are pretty drastic, much more so than losing a ball game. Yet to hear athletes and coaches talk, sometimes I wonder if they realize that. Parents, too, who push their kids too hard to win at youth sports (or dance, or music, or whatever.)
Ultimately, the lesson in parashat Eikev is “listen to what I am telling you.” Sounds like a coach to me. “I’m telling you this for your own good.” It’s possible we kept losing because we didn’t listen. We still aren’t listening very well, but our streak of bad luck seems to be thinning out (at least for now. Unless you consider the continued existence of Judaism to be under threat, which some people do.)
I’ve little experience with athletic coaches, but a a reasonable amount with band directors – who have quite a bit in common with each other. Some manage to give pep talks without negative reinforcement, and others are pretty heavy-handed with it. (Personally, I continue to believe you catch more flies with honey.)
What this coaching/pep-talk/huddle metaphor does for me is enable me to be a bit more accepting of the striking text we encounter here in parashat Eikev and much of D’varim. When I consider the (supposed) time and place of this long oration by Moses, and place it in the context of a pep talk, it makes it easier for me to digest and accept. It also convinces me that we were just as dysfunctional then as we are now.
Since I am still struggling with so much of what the Torah, and particularly this parasha and this book, has to say, I thought I might offer some Torah from two of my childhood heroes, Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra.
Yogi explained the book of D’varim pretty well:
It’s like deja vu all over again.
Here are a few more of my favorites pieces of CS/YB Torah:
When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out. YB
If you come to a fork in the road, take it. YB
There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them. CS
The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided. CS
Without losers, where would the winners be? CS
I stayed up last night and watched the Republican Convention all night long. I watched all of them talk, and listened to them and seen them and I'm not interested in politics. If you watch them and listen to them you can find out why. CS
If you’re really a baseball fan, then you’ll know from whence the title of this musing comes from.
We can end with this well-worn YB quote:
It ain’t over ‘til it’s over YB
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha: