Can an All-German Champions League final on English soil be reason for English fans to celebrate?

There’s no denying it, England has viewed Germany as their greatest football rival since the beginning of time, or at least ‘football-time’. Now, with two German football giants about to pay a visit to Wembley for the
Champions League final, what are English fans supposed to be thinking?!

There’s an old joke, that whilst the pessimist and the optimist are busy arguing over whether the glass is half empty or half full, the realist walks over and drinks it. Whilst football pundits are arguing over who is going to win, and how English fans are reacting to an all-German Champions League final on English territory, I’d like to point out a reason for English fans to be celebrating. No less than half the players who will be present at this match are guaranteed to lose! Is that not a reason to celebrate? With 100% odds that a German team will lose this match, should this not be a dream come true for English fans?

In truth, it is not quite so simple. There is a very interesting story in the Talmud (Berachot 65b). When the Talmudic Sage Rava became ill, he kept it secret for one day. The second day though, he allowed his illness to become public knowledge. Rava explained that when everyone found out he was ill, the following reactions would occur. Those who felt bad for him would pray for his recovery, whilst those who hated him would get excited. He then quoted the verse in Proverbs (24:17-18) “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; do not rejoice in your heart when they stumble, for G-d will see and disapprove, and He will turn His wrath away from the enemy.” It seems that Rava wanted his enemies to gloat over his downfall, thus removing any reason that G-d may have had to make him ill. This would grant him an immediate recovery.

Why is this so? It seems that gloating is so bad, that G-d will remove any reason to gloat if one were to do so. But what is so terrible about gloating? There is an interesting piece in the Torah (Exodus 23:4-5), where it discusses what to do when one finds an enemy’s animal that is in trouble, whether it got lost, or is overloaded. The Torah stipulates that although it is the property of an enemy, one must assist the owner, by returning or unloading the animal. Obviously, the same would apply whether or not it is an enemy’s animal. Why then does the Torah specifically refer to an enemy’s animal in these cases? The Torah isover_loaded_donkey teaching us two things.
Firstly, one must even help an enemy.
Secondly, the fact that this is an enemy makes one even more obligated to assist them. There is a natural tendency to avoid one’s enemies. This opportunity though, may be divinely orchestrated to recant all prejudices they may have about this enemy, thereby achieving peace. When one gloats over their enemy, they reinforce any
prejudices they have. By assisting their
enemy, they can repair their relationship.

However, that is not all. A more extreme example of this idea is seen on Passover. Although there are eight days of Passover (outside Israel), only on the first two do we say the entire Hallel. After that we only say the ‘shortened version’ (like on Rosh Chodesh). The Yalkut Shim’oni (Proverbs 24:17) explains that this is because Passover ends with the Egyptians drowning. It is not right that we celebrate the Passover festival in its entirety when others, even our enemies, were suffering. Though this is extremely difficult, to feel the pain of an enemy who hurt us, something may be within our reach. If we need an incentive, we have it too! In Proverbs, we are warned not to gloat over an enemy’s downfall, as if so, G-d may turn the tide, and we will suffer instead. It is not simply because G-d doesn’t want us gloating, He wants us to reconcile with our enemies, achieving true peace. This is why gloating is so terrible that anything that may be
remotely viewed as gloating (such as saying the entire Hallel on Passover) is not done. Not only is it a missed opportunity for reconciliation, it is the exact opposite, it nurtures and increases the hatred between enemies.

Though this will not be happening with regard to English and German fans (at least not so quickly…), there are points that can be applied to our situation. It may not be within our reach to celebrate when a German team wins the Champions League, which is quite understandable. However, we should not allow ourselves to celebrate that a German team loses on English soil. From the connotations of Proverbs, if we want an All-English final in Lisbon next year, it seems like a good idea to cheer along with the German fans. If we cannot, we should at least not gloat over the losing team. Though this may not bring about the peace that G-d wants, it is a way to internalise the idea of peace. Through not gloating here, we may be able to stop gloating about personal downfalls too. This will bring about the peace that Proverbs wants us to achieve. So, sorry, but there’s only one reason for English fans to cheer about an All-German final, and that is simply the fact that it is on English soil! A small celebration perhaps, but it is certainly better than gloating over our greatest football rivals.



That’s a long aliya!

Last week I blogged about how long the Megilla is. This week it’s about how long the first two aliyot are!

Torah_ScrollIf you looked in this week’s Torah portion (Ki Tisa), you’ll have notice that the first two aliyot go on forever! If not, then be warned, the first two aliyot are extremely long. Is the Torah portion long this week? Well, yes, but that’s not the answer, the first two aliyot cover over two thirds of the entire Torah reading.

This seems like some kind of deliberate way of putting those who are not a Kohen or Levi on the sidelines, giving the lion-share of the Torah reading to the Kohen and Levi. Is that fair?

Let’s analyse the content of these two aliyot.
Though the first one is as long as the second, it is not so interesting. It is ‘only’ about creating things for the Tabernacle. The excitement only really begins in the second aliya. It is here that we read about the Golden Calf. We read how the Jews gave up on Moses returning from Sinai, creating and worshipping an idol. We read what happened when Moses came back down mountain, how he called all those who had been faithful to punish those who had not. The second aliyah ends when the shame and embarrassment of the Jews is over, and Moses is asking G-d to forgive the Jews. It seems that we are deliberately avoiding allowing an Israelite to be called up to this piece about the Golden Calf. This is especially apparent, as the aliyah ends as soon as the sin of the Golden Calf is over.

This is in fact exactly what is happening. We are avoiding giving an Israelite (myself included) an aliyah that contains the Golden Calf saga. Why should we do this?

Imagine you knew somebody who regularly committed certain crimes. He has since renounced such a lifestyle, and is living as a fine upstanding citizen. One day there is a major news story of somebody who has been caught, doing exactly what this person did. Would you feel comfortable discussing the events with them? How about if this person himself was a news sensation for their crime. Would you leave any information about that story lying around when you knew this person was going to visit? Surely you would hide away any reminder of this person’s previous crime.

When we read this week’s Torah portion, we are reading of a terrible sin committed by the Jewish people. A mere forty days after receiving the Torah, they turn to idol worship. What could have done worse?! After renouncing such actions and returning to where they were previously, do you think any Jew wants to hear about this story again?

Golden_CalfWell, it is in the Torah, it is something for us to learn from, and we read it every year. It is not the most pleasant piece to read, and we do not really want to call up someone who might be offended by this misdeed.

Who can we turn to if all the Jews participated in this misdeed? When Moses came down from Sinai, what was his call to arms? ‘Those who were true to G-d, those who did not commit idol worship, should join with me.’ Who stepped forward? The entire tribe of Levi. Not one Levite committed this misdeed, they all remained true to their faith. If so, it is only fitting that a Levite be given the story of the Golden Calf, so as not to remind those who failed in the past of their failings.

This is absolutely amazing! We worry about the shame of the descendants of something that happened over three thousand years ago! This shows just how far we must go to protect the feelings of others.