Sunday, August 26, 2012

King of Kings or the Coach of Coahes

I think a lot about God.  I think a lot about God especially as I prepare for the High Holidays.  I guess it is a professional hazard. In ancient times the most powerful person in the world was the king.  He literally had the life and death of his subjects in his hands. No wonder the average person held him in great awe and respect. When trying to convey God’s reality our sages understood well the metaphor of kingship.  If a human king has the power of life and death in his hands and the people owe him loyalty, how much more so the King of Kings  The whole High Holiday liturgy revolves around the metaphor of God as our King.

For us moderns that metaphor just doesn’t work any more.  Rabbi Abraham Twersky sums up our dilemma in his commentary on the Machzor Rosh Hashana:  “Who nowadays conceive of this combined feeling of awe and fear for a human king? This may not have much impact upon us, since we do not relate to a mortal king.  We elect a president for a period of time, and he does not have unrestrained powers.  To the contrary, his powers are limited by congress and the courts.  Once his term of office has ended, he is once again an ordinary citizen.  Even in countries that do have a king, it is usually a ceremonial position, with power resting int he hands of an elected government.” (page12)

As I was thinking about new metaphors for God my thoughts drifted back to my high school track coach, Coach Rojack.  I was a sophomore on the Junior Varsity team.  The coach had us run and run and run.  I was ok but not fast enough to catch anybody’s attention until one of the last meets of the year.  I had a break through and I remember the coach asking where did I come from all of the sudden.  I remember how proud I was that the coach took notice of my potential because he asked me to go out for the cross country team in the fall. (I didn’t go out for the team after my summer study teen tour of Israel because my whole life focus changed, but that is another story for another time.)

Reflecting upon my track career, I understood that Coach Rojack inspired me and the rest of the team to work harder, to be the best we could be, and to achieve lofty goals. At least for me, I found a metaphor that works.  God is my coach.  God inspires me to follow His example to work harder, to be the best I can be, and achieve lofty goals.  Just as the Merciful One is compassionate, I should be compassionate.  Because integrity is God’s middle name so to speak, integrity should be the hallmark of all my actions. When ever God’s greatness is mentioned in our Bible, His humility and concern for the powerlessness immediately follows.  Humility and concern for the downtrodden should inform all my actions. My earthly coach made me run countless 220 yard dashes in a row for my improvement, My heavenly Coach has given me the mitzvot to refine my soul and body for my improvement.  If I wanted my track coach to be proud of me, how much more so do I desire that God finds all my deeds pleasing in His sight.  God, my Coach, has inspired me to be the person I truly want to become.

I like this metaphor very much because I am an equal partner in this God-human relationship.  Although I depend upon God’s grace and forgiveness when I fall short, my Coach empowers me to take an active role in my development as a mensch, a human being.  I doubt whether Rabbi Twerski would adopt my metaphor, but certainly in his unique interpretation of a difficult verse supports me and my understanding of my Coach of Coaches.

“Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate the day the world was created. Rather, it represents the sixth day of Creation, the day on which Hashem said, ‘Let  us make man...' Genesis 1:26)

“Nowhere else in the account of Creation do we find Hashem saying, ‘Let us.”  Whose participation was Hashem seeking-and why only the creation of man?

“The Baal Shem Tov explains that all other living things were created in a state of completion.  Animals are not required to voluntarily exert themselves to change.  Caterpillars become butterflies because this transformation is programmed in their genes.  The only creature that must make a voluntary effort to become something other than it was at creation is man. Job said that man comes into the world as ‘a wild mule’ (Job 11:120, and man, by his own efforts, must change himself from an animal state into a spiritual human individual. Hence, Hashem required man’s participation in his own creation, and therefore He aid, ‘Let us make man.’ We are indeed partners with Hashem in our creation as spiritual beings.” (page 22-3)

That’s exactly like my track coach or perhaps your life coach.  So this High Holiday season to paraphrase a famous line: “Do Teshuvah (repentance) this New Year for the Gipper!”