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Go for Gold!

03/03/17 15:18:45


Seudah Shlishit, the short sit-down snack between Mincha (afternoon service) and the termination of Shabbat, isn’t the most glamourous of our week’s events at Caulfield shule but we do have some sparkling speakers at it. Last week’s speaker sparkled and inspired. The speaker was Moran Samuel an Israeli champion basket ball player who suffered a spinal aneurism when she was just 24 (Moran was brought to Australia by “Beit Halochem” ZVDO). She was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair (“In one moment my body was erased”) but undaunted in spirit and courageous in her resolve.

Even while she was lying stunned and shaken in hospital, shortly after her diagnosis, she had decided she would not be defined by her disability. Defying expectations she was released after three months and returned to her own apartment determined to be independent, to do everything she could for herself. She returned to university, completed her Masters Degree in Physical Therapy, returned to sport and set off on a course that would make her Israel’s Paralympic, gold-winning rowing champion.

Moran’s story is a telling reminder to all of us about the power of optimism, the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to overcome adversity. It’s an old story but as Robert Graves put it, it is the only story, the one story worth telling and retelling. It’s the story of our personal lives for we all face difficulties and challenges; each person has their “pekel”, their own package that they have to learn to live with. It’s the story of our collective lives as a Jewish people. It’s the story of Pesach and it’s the tale of Jewish history and destiny. It’s the fable of our inner lives.

The Exodus story dominates Jewish thought and practice. We make reference to it every day in our prayers (at the end of “Shema”), it’s the touchstone of our festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot) and centre-piece of our eight-day Pesach celebration.

The Exodus taught us not only the meaning of freedom but in truth the meaning of life itself. The act of liberation wasn’t only a dramatic political revolution, a radical departure for a world steeped in the authoritarianism of ancient Egypt and its rigid pyramidical hierarchy of slave and King; it was also about a journey deeply personal in its resonance. It was about the journey of each individual Hebrew slave from a mind locked in slavery to a spirit freed in a wilderness without borders. They had to free themselves from the “metzarim”, the narrow confines and stifling boundaries. The name Egypt -  מצרים - and the word for constraints are exactly the same (bar the vowels and pronunciation). The hardest battle is not in the field of work or career but the one we have with ourselves; the battle to overcome our own inner-obstacles, our own impulsive demons. We are too often, as the proverb puts it, our own worst enemies. Moran’s words and example were a reminder that we can do it but it takes grit and determination, that you have to dig deep inside, that success is achieved only with repeated failure and then only step-by-step; slowly, constantly, assuredly.

Moran also reminded that we need to be careful not to keep looking back at what we’ve been through, but to always look forward to what lies ahead. Too much retrospection undermines us; it turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt; it makes everything taste like salt. Looking forward and ahead is the natural human position – you have to twist yourself to look backwards. We may not all be made of champion stuff but we can all achieve gold. We can each make our way from Egypt to Sinai, climb the mountain and carve out a life of meaning, value and purpose.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph

Tue, 14 July 2020 22 Tammuz 5780