Eighth Place Trophy Judaism
The story is told of a fellow who wanted nothing more than to be an NFL quarterback. After years of grueling training and sacrifice through high school and then college, he was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills. Tragically, two hours into his first day of training he was tackled and suffered a career ending arm injury. The Bills let him go and he spent the rest of the season trying to cheer himself up while watching the team he almost played for from the stands just like any other fan would. Even without their star rookie, the Bills ended up having an amazing season and proceed to win the Super Bowl.
As his ex-team rushes on the field in celebration he breaks through security and joins them! He runs up to where the winning quarterback is standing and asks for his Super Bowl ring and demands his turn to speak with the press. Everyone around him is staring in disbelief—what chutzpah! Seeing everyone’s puzzled stares he defiantly explains, “I wanted nothing more than to be a star quarterback, I put in the time and I sacrificed. The fact that I could not become one was out of my control. I demand a trophy.” I think that we would all feel his pain, perhaps admire his perseverance, and pity his inability to accept reality. He is not a star quarterback. He will never be a star quarterback. As much as he “deserves” a trophy, he will never get one. We live in a bottom line world. In the “real world” there are no eighth place trophies. Right?
The preceding parable was loosely adapted from a parable told by Rav Yisroel Mayer Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim. He explained that although in the physical world there are no eighth place trophies, in the spiritual world there certainly are. There is a simple reason for this: God places limitations on people. God makes Albert Einstein smarter than me, Arnold Shwartzenegger stronger than me, and Michal Jordan a better athlete than me. God also gives some people different opportunities than others. For example, imagine two talmudic students who have the same passion, put in the same hours and effort, but one is forced to abandon his studies to begin working full time to support his parents when he is 18. Will God fault him for not being a scholar? If two people work on themselves to be generous, but one is born into wealth and becomes a major philanthropist while the other makes a decent living but never is able to do more than a basic tithe. Is the second less generous, or simply doesn't have the same opportunities?
Why Do Some People Struggle More Than Others?
Why does God create us with differences, both internal and external? We can ask this question in the macro and the micro. In the macro, there is a simple answer: making every person different and unique makes society function. In the micro it is more difficult to understand. Why does God choose each test for each person? To answer that question we need to dig deeper into the meaning of life and appreciate that all growth comes through challenges and that we each require unique challenges to grow though.
God Keeps Score
The Chofetz Chaim explains that God creates spiritual handicaps and keeps track of them. In “God’s book” it is 100 percent about effort and 0 percent about results. As people and as a society in a physical world we cannot function that way; we need to be results-based for the world to operate. Imagine a world where a student who wanted to go to medical school but could not afford to was treating cancer patients. Although he has great intentions and an amazing work ethic, he still has no education and will kill far more patients than he heals. In the spiritual world however, we understand that it is the complete opposite; all we can really do is our best.
So Who Is The Most Righteous Person You Know?
I am blessed to know a bunch of amazing people and I know which of those people are earning the first place trophy in this world. What I don’t know is who is earning the highest trophy in “Gods book.” Are you the most righteous person I know? You may be or you may not be, but one thing is for sure, it is beyond any human's ability to judge that.