Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Israeli athlete snubbed by Egyptian opponent. The headline said it all. The comments that followed reflected the myriad opinions on the animosity that lingers between the two nations and peoples. The challenge is that the Olympics are supposed to highlight athleticism and sportsmanship over politics and dishonor. Unfortunately, there seems to be no place devoid of Arab/Muslim animosity for an Israeli/Jewish presence either in the Middle East or on the Olympic mat.
The vast difference can be found in the Israeli/Jewish reaction to an Arab/Muslim presence especially on the same Olympic mat. Compared to his Egyptian opponent, El Shahaby, the Israeli contender, Or Sasson, said in response, “To honor your rival is something I was educated to do. The Olympics is built on respect.”
I can’t know exactly when Sasson first learned this profound lesson, but I do know that it has its roots in Talmud. There, rival rabbinic opinions were the norm. Competing rabbinic opinions stood against each other in order to refine an argument that was addressed from all sides. The victor in the legal scrape emerged from reason and experience, and some would say, from a better team of legal minds. Though animosity was not recorded, per se, there had to have been some hard feelings between competing rabbis. However, they concluded early (see the story of the Oven of Achnai) that an argument for the sake of heaven was one in which there were no losers; only sacred contenders who aimed for solutions that interpreted Torah for the sake of Jewish life lived in covenant with God.
On the Olympic Judo match, Sasson said he was educated to honor his rival. Though neither he nor his opponent is a rabbi, the Jewish (read menschlikch/human) value to honor his opponent in the Olympics should have been part of the outcome of either one’s victory. It’s only speculation, but it seems reasonable to conclude that had El Shahaby won the match, he would have lauded it over Sasson and used it for a similar political purpose that his loss did. Likewise, I think that had Sasson lost, he would have extended the same hand to Shahaby and for the same reason he did when he won the match. It’s not politics. It’s respect owed to the Olympics.
The greatest loss is found in what could have been. Just as Israel and Egypt are finding some common ground to defeat a common enemy in ISIL, Shahaby could have set aside his destructive childhood lessons about his opponent and demonstrate to his brothers in Egypt, and the audience around the world, that while peace hasn’t been embraced in the Middle East, peace can be observed when the Olympics bring us together not as nations of the world, but as one world of many nations.
Kol hakavod (all the honor) to Or Sasson, for your win on the Olympic mat, and for your victory on the mat of dignity, respect and humanity.