In the 1970’s there was a huge number of aspirants for the
rabbinate. For every single applicant to the Hebrew Union College, which
my seminary in Cincinnati accepted, there were three others that were
rejected. Some didn’t make it in because of the difficult psychiatric review
(one such applicant thought the rabbinate was a stepping stone to being the
Messiah), or because their intellectual acumen was deficient; or some
personal skills seemed to be wanting. At our Hebrew Ulpan in Israel it was inevitable that we would err in some embarrassing way as we labored in to converse in Hebrew. The usual quip of derision went; “Boy we would like to meet the other three candidates they re- jected instead of you!”
This of course leads me to think about the idea of being chosen. The academy awards are upon us in a modified Covid form this year. Nevertheless, the usual anticipations remain as to who will be the Best Actor, Best Actress and so forth.
Just a few years back to take away the sting of ruthless competition the new language, ever so politically correct went from Best Actor to Best performance by an Actor. Shel Silverstein (writer of The Giving Tree, and the song A Boy Named Sue) once reflected on winning with this poem:
As Shavuot is upon us this month, the Jewish people celebrate their “closeness!” We stood at Sinai, received the Ten Commandments, or according to one tradition all of the 613 command- ments. We became an “Am Seguah!” a treasured people to God. The book of Deuteronomy poetically concludes with a boast that when God decided the boundaries of nations, He/She began with Israel first. Over the years we have had to walk a narrow path between a triumphal posture of superiority (as in how many disproportionate Nobel prizes Jews win?) and a more modest view that being Jewish meant an embrace of responsibility (as in it hasn’t always been such an honor being chosen – the old jest, “Please God choose someone else for a while!).
We had a modest film night last month about Gefilte fish and Passover. (Thanks to Lorie Edder!) Delightful, poignant and sentimental, it reviewed the multi-generational annual Passover gathering of a rather large Jewish family whose roots went back over a century. The culinary preparations were both fun to watch and cringe worthy. Our cultural disposition seems to foster a relentless competitive urge to assert the best way to do this or to do that! (Especially when it comes to recipes and spices to use or not to use: that is the question!) Do think of that when you enjoy the annual Bible and Blintzes?
Tamping down the competitive impulse, the Prophet Amos announced:
“Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? Amos 9:7 All people everywhere have their gifts to celebrate. All of us are winners in one way or another.
Yossi Liebowitz, Rabbi