World's Worst Skier

Friday, 2 March, 2018 - 4:00 pm

An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. "Happiness," said the Englishman, "Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire."  "You English have no romance," said the Frenchman. "Happiness is having dinner with your beautiful wife at a fine restaurant."

 "You are both wrong," said the Russian. "True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 am you hear a loud banging at the door and there stand two KGB police agents, who say to you, 'Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,' and you say, 'Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'"

In this weeks portion, Ki Tisa speaks about one of our lowest points in history. Forty days ago they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai and experienced the greatest moment in all of history: The only time when G-d revealed Himself to an entire nation, giving them a blueprint to heal and sanctify the world. Now, five weeks later, the very same people are enthralled by a golden calf. They are laughing, bowing down to it, engaging in adultery all around their new god crafted of the jewelry in their ears.

G-d is “furious,” as it were. “Now G-d says to Moses leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them, and I will make you into a great nation."

Listen to the words. “Leave Me alone.” Moses got the message. If He does not leave G-d alone, all would end up well. So Moses does not leave G-d alone. He pleads, prays and begs for forgiveness. The people repent. G-d forgives the people. We are still here.

Yet in the conversation, G-d says something shocking.  G-d, it seems, is telling Moses He will never forget this sin. And whenever He is going to make an accounting of their sins, this sin will be included in the “package.”

Now I have listened to you not to destroy them all at once, but always, when I take an accounting of their sins, I will also account a little of this sin with the other sins. This is deeply enigmatic. It is one of the foundations of Judaism that repentance atones for all sins and wipes them away completely. Every Yom Kippur, we conclude the central blessing, “G-d removes our sins every year again.” No matter how many times we commit a sin, if we repent, we are forgiven.

And yet here, suddenly, we discover a very different G-d. “When I take an accounting of their sins, I will also account a little of this sin with the other sins.” G-d will never let go of this sin. The Jews repented, but He can’t let go. Why?

The marvelous answer to these questions was presented by the famed Chassidic master and one of the greatest lovers of Israel, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov (1740-1809).

Some people seem to be naturally good, while others are forever struggling with negative character traits and ominous perversions. One individual is raised in a warm and loving home and, from earliest infancy, is impressed by educators and role-models exemplifying integrity, compassion, and idealism, while his fellow has only dysfunction and corruption to emulate.

The Maimonides describes two types of personalities: the ‘perfectly pious’ and the ‘one who conquers his inclinations.’ The ‘perfectly pious’ individual despises evil and desires only good; since evil does not entice him, his life's work consists only of increasing and enhancing the good in himself and the world. On the other hand, the ‘conqueror’ struggles with the negative in himself and his environment.

One cannot compare the two journeys. While the first person’s noble behavior is always praiseworthy, it is not unique and special. After all, he is emulating his parents and grandparents, he is a product of holiness and he is merely continuing in that path. The credit he deserves, for every person, has free choice, but nonetheless, this person remains in his comfort zone. He never started a new business. He took over a very successful business from his father and continued to maintain it. He was given a gift and never had to struggle to earn his dollar. He was born into success.

But the second fellow, he owns everything he achieves. Every spiritual state he achieves is his alone. He must fight for his character. Nothing was given to him. He must step out of his comfort zone, and recreate himself, as he chooses to connect to the Divine.

Which category do the Jews fit into? Says Reb Levi Yitzchak, due to the holy ancestors of the Jewish people and their great leaders, it seemed like the accepting of the Torah by Jews was as natural as water to a fish. It was the hand in perfect glove. A match made in heaven. The Jewish soul is a “Fragment of G-d,” and the Jewish DNA is molded in the image of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Torah for them is as organic as the piano to Mozart, the paintbrush to Van Gogh.

But then came the Golden Calf. Suddenly, a new story emerged. There were hidden demons and skeletons in the Jewish psyche that still needed lots of purging. The Torah was far from natural and organic. Merely 40 days after Sinai, they exploded. They chose temporary insanity. They simply wanted to hear of no yoke, no G-d, no destiny, no meaning, no purpose.

What this brought out more than anything else is how much we ought to appreciate their initial commitment to G-d at Sinai. Seeing how low they fell only demonstrates the tremendous courage, confidence, spirit, integrity, sacrifice, and faith the Jewish people had previously as they said “we will do” and “we will hear” and embraced their destiny as the ambassadors of G-d in this world.

The Washington Post ran this headline on Feb 22, 2017:  Adrian Solano looked every bit a skier when he lined up for a cross-country race at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Finland a few weeks ago, in February 2017.  But then he started moving.

Dressed head to toe in orange, the 22-year-old Venezuelan nearly fell as he tried to exit the starting gate. He wobbled again after he finally got going, only to actually topple over when he rounded one of the course’s first curves. This would happen repeatedly for the next 38 minutes or so until Solano’s time was up. Too far behind the leader, Croatia’s Kresimir Crnkovic, who finished the entire 10-kilometer ski course in 26:21.5, Solano’s race ended at the 3.5-kilometer mark.

I watched the video of this poor guy skiing. I have to tell you, it reminded me of myself. And that’s bad news! The guy kept on falling. And if you ever tried falling down on the slopes again and again and again you know what a pain it is to simply lift yourself up and continue.

And yet this guy continued the race, only to fall again. And yet I saw something amazing: Judging from the width of the smile that stretched across Solano’s face as he slid to his finish, though, you’d have thought he won.   And in a way, maybe he did.

Since his February lousy performance, Solano has shot to Internet fame. While at first, he made the rounds on Twitter for being what many labeled “the world’s worst skier,” Solano has since become an inspirational tale. His videos and posts became an international tale of encouragement.

“Maybe I have fallen many times but what really counts is that I will always continue to rise,” Solano wrote on Instagram, defending his performance, which by the way, was his first on snow.  While he won’t be taking home any awards, he’s made plenty of new friends.

And, yes, he plans to continue on in the sport. “This motivates my desire to continue fulfilling my dreams and making my goals real,” he said in response to one of his Instagram followers cheering him on. “Let constancy and sacrifice move mountains.”

Why does his story inspire me? Because you can't always relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.

This man inspired so many because he is not a professional skier. He is actually clueless on the slopes. But he is working hard to develop the skill and it seems like he will get there one day.

This is a personal story for each of us. For some of us, it may be skiing, while for some of us it may be giving up drinking, smoking, gambling, sugar or carbs. For some of us, it may give up some immoral behavior. For others, it may be stopping to consume lobster, or putting on the TV on Shabbat. For some of us, it may be controlling anger and the urge to insult or denigrate.

Whatever it may be, what inspires me—and what inspires G-d—is not when things just come easy and smooth. But when we fall on the slopes, and yet we rise again. To quote my new friend from Venezuela, “Let constancy and sacrifice move mountains.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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