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Home » Shavuot, Uncategorized

Shavuot: Torah and Golf

Submitted by on June 2, 2014 – 2:41 amNo Comment | 4,922 views

The Parallels

A number of my friends are avid golfers. Over coffee one day they tried to explain to me some aspects of the game’s attraction. At first I didn’t get it but as I listened to them I noticed that at times their voices carried almost spiritual undertones. Suddenly, I was more interested in this game than I ever thought I might be.
They told me that depending on the day golf can sap your soul or inspire you to lofty heights. They said that you can’t give up because every day is a new challenge. I was told that if you play it alone you are eccentric, but with friends, it is the nicest way to spend the day. They say that cheating in this game is a waste of time, it doesn’t get you ahead.

They say all that about golf. Curiously, they also say all that about religion. It the season of Shavuot so let’s play a little golf with Torah.

Hole In One

Every amateur golfer dreams of a hole in one. It is the Holy Grail and when you hit it, it becomes your high moment. The peak that you will never forget. Notwithstanding future successes or frustrations, this moment becomes the emblem of your career. You have hit that hole in one. Yet, if you never hit it, you never stop dreaming of it. You go out every day because you never know, today might be that day.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a soul can descend to this world for seventy or eighty years to do a single favor for another. You never know which favor it might be, but when you encounter that moment, it will make or break your entire lifetime. If you do the favor, you have fulfilled your purpose and your entire lifetime has meaning. If you don’t…

Its our religious hole in one opportunity and not hitting is simply not an option. There is too much on the line. An entire life time is riding on this. So we go out every day and seek out every opportunity to help another. We don’t miss a single one because it might just be THE one. When you encounter that moment, you want to hit it straight and true, driving it directly into the hole.

In golf it is a hole in one. In religion is a whole with one. Becoming whole with G-d, who is one.

Competing Against Self

In most sports your competition comes from the other team or from your direct opponent. Golf is different. At its most popular level you compete primarily against yourself. Unless you are a professional or top amateur competing at a tournament, you are always your toughest opponent because you are always confronting yesterday’s success or disappointment. golf - innerstream.caWhat others do is immaterial to your game. In golf there is only one person to overcome – that is you.

The same holds true in religion. People love to judge others, but Torah doesn’t want you to play your companion’s game. Torah wants you to play your own game. Go out there every day and never give up. Yesterday might have been an amazing day for you, but that doesn’t absolve you from starting all over again today. In fact, it doesn’t absolve you from making tomorrow even better than today. On the other hand, yesterday might have been disastrous for you, but that doesn’t preclude today being an unprecedented success. Still, that can only happen if you keep competing.

The Social Element

Golf wouldn’t be golf if it was a solitary sport. A huge part of the game’s appeal lies in its social aspect. There are few things more enjoyable than spending 4 or 5 hours in a serene setting enjoying the beauty of G-d’s creation while kibitzing, schmoozing and reflecting on life with your mates.

Religion can be a high strung affair. There are high expectations and demands. We are expected to please G-d, whose perfection is beyond our capabilities. There are expectations of daily prayer, constant vigilance, dietary restrictions, Shabbat and holiday observances and strenuous fast days. There are moral exhortations of humility, generosity and honesty to name a few. It can easily become high strung and stressful, but not when it is celebrated with community.

Torah asks us to celebrate with family and friends. Shabbat observances are not the same and certainly not as enjoyable on our own. What makes it special, is family and community. Private prayer is discouraged. Prayer in large groups is the preferred way. Religion ought to be exciting and enjoyable. Not stressful and guilt ridden.

Supporting Others

A big part of the golf etiquette is supporting your friends when they hit a good shot and comforting them during the misery of their dry spells. Despite the solitary nature of the game, we are in it together. We all face the same doubts, fears and challenges. Notwithstanding our personal level of talent, we are always there for each other.

The Torah wants us to focus on our own game and not judge others, but so there is another side to it too. When another needs help or encouragement, we must be there for them. When another needs direction or support, we must be there for them. When another needs a compliment or some cheering up, we must be there for them. When another needs a crying shoulder, we must offer our own. In short, celebrate another’s success like it’s your own. Help them with their shortcomings, like you would want to be helped.

Gentlemen’s Ethic

More than any other game, golf is ruled by ethics. Due to the nature of the game, there is ample opportunity to cheat. You are often on your own when you retrieve your ball and no one would know if you improved its placement. Yet, the overwhelming expectation amongst golfers is that no one cheats. It goes against the grain. It is understood on a gut level that a cheating victory is a hollow victory, one that lacks all meaning.

It goes without saying that there are no shortcuts in Torah. No one will know how you behave in the privacy of your room and what you think in the privacy of your mind. It is easy to mislead the entire community and make them think you are more pious than you are, but what’s the point?

In religion, more than any other endeavor, the one to impress is G-d. And He can’t be fooled. I once heard it put this way. You can’t fool society, you will eventually be found out. You certainly can’t food G-d, He knows right away. The one you can fool is yourself, but what is to be gained from fooling a fool?

Conclusions

The many parallels between Torah and Golf demonstrate that golf has spiritual strains. It requires diligence, humility, honesty and hard work. Yet, golf isn’t to be a substitute for religion. No matter how many rounds of golf you might be able to play on Yom Kippur, on that day, you belong in Shull.

In golf your objective is to best yourself. In religion your objective is to draw closer to G-d. The means might be similar, but the goals are very different. One other difference is that golf can only be practiced on the course. Religion is much easier in that regard. It can be practiced anywhere. So whether you drive out to the course and pick up a club or stay at home and pick up a Siddur, the message is the same. Keep practicing. With time, you will get better.

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