Life is like golf, not tennis

By Rabbi Danny Wolfe 

I had a fascinating conversation with my father the other day. My father was telling me how he is not interested whatsoever in competing against other people when he plays golf. He hopes he does well, and he hopes they do well. But what concerns my father is that he improve his own score, and in that sense, he plays against himself.

At first I said, “Pops, you’re just getting older. You know how awesome it feels to beat an opponent in a sport. I love ya Pops, but I can’t relate to not caring bout how your opponent fares; I hope I win, and therefore, necessarily, I hope he loses.”

After telling him this, I did a little self reflection, and realized, that as usual, my dad was conveying profound words of wisdom. Judaism teaches that a good recipe for a miserable life is to always compare your life to the lives of others. The person who does not focus inward, but is rather fixated on every one else, will never find contentment. Life is not like a tennis match, in which you either win, or lose. Life is like a golf game, where we work on improving our score every time we play. We might go through some slumps, and we might get knocked down. But we can always storm back and get even better.

Right now we are in the month of Elul, approaching Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana we stand before G-d in judgment as He determines who will live and who will die. Just as we would tremble at the thought of standing before a judge or jury who would determine whether or not we receive a death sentence, so too, right now is a very scary time. It doesn’t require perusing the daily newspaper for very long to realize that life is very temporal and can end at any time.

The Talmud instructs us that we should repent one day before we die. The obvious question is, how can we do that when we don’t know when we will die? To this the Talmud answers, all the more reason to repent today, since you might well die tomorrow; and thereby you will live out all of your days in a state of repentance. The month of Elul reminds us that if we have not started repenting, now is the time to begin, before we stand before the King of all Kings in judgement. We shouldn’t push it off; we need to start immediately.

Rabbi Dessler points out that every single person has a personal spiritual battle that she or he is waging. Each one of us needs to identify with clarity what we are struggling with, and we need to come up with a plan to triumph in the battle. Every one of us is created differently; we each have our own unique struggles. Just like it is useless for me to compare my score with yours on the golf course, so too, spiritually, the only score I should be evaluating is my own.  But the time to start confronting these struggles is right now. The time to start figuring out how to correct my golf swing, is not tomorrow, not in two months, but today.

In 1996 there was a corny Nike golf commercial that I never properly understood, until today. The commercial featured the enormously popular and successful Tiger Woods, and random children, all of whom went to the camera and said, “I am Tiger Woods.” Today I realize, that indeed, just like the children on that commercial, I too, am Tiger Woods.

Rabbi Danny Wolfe is the new Young Adults Division Director, AKA JewPro, at The Jewish Experience.

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