The Whole Ten Yards
When I was younger, so much younger than today, football, according to the experts—or, in any event, the old-timers—took a turn for the worse. Players began doing strange things after scoring or making a big play. They would dance; they would jump into the stands; they would cluck like a chicken. Simply spiking the ball (the first recorded instance of which, according to my Google search, came in 1965) was passé.
This development did not please many a football sage, who felt that when players reach the end zone, they ought to “look like they’ve been there before.”
And I had always agreed with this line of thinking. Even as I enjoyed the short-lived antics of Terrell Owens, I wondered: Who needs this nonsense? The high fiving, the helmet banging, the chest thumping, the arm pumping on each and every play was overkill, I felt. Since when does a tackle on second-and-seven, making it third-and-four, deserve any sort of recognition, let alone a festive gesture?
But then I got to thinking.
Is it really so bad to celebrate every moment in life—even if the moment really isn’t that big? To put it another way aren’t the “small” victories also big? Aren’t they valuable too, deserving of celebration?
Watching the game the other Sunday, I saw an ad for ESPN with the slogan, “Living Life Ten Yards at a Time.” Those NFL players have it right after all, I thought. They celebrate every play as if they had just won the Super Bowl, because in some small way they have. Each and every play brings them that much closer to gaining the ten yards needed for a first down. The accumulation of first downs ultimately leads to a touchdown, or at least, a field goal. The touchdowns and field goals, if there are enough of them, add up to a victory. And the victories are what get a team to the playoffs and on the road to the Super Bowl.
So, in point of fact, each and every well-executed play deserves celebration.
Certainly in the world of sports, where tenths- and even hundredths-of-a-second can mean the difference between the gold medal and fourth place—between immortality and obscurity—there is no such thing as a small event. In a society where obscure statistics are tracked and measured, where every move a player makes contributes to his coach’s opinion of his performance and determines whether or not he ought to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars—every single play counts.
In life, every day, every hour, every moment has value. Especially as Jews, who live a life under G-d’s Divine direction, we must recognize the value of our time and not simply be motivated by the “big” events.
I once heard a story about two friends who wanted to know what the Afterlife was like. They made a deal that whoever died first would report back to the other (no, this is not the “bad news is you’re pitching tomorrow” joke). Eventually one of them died and the very next evening appeared to her friend in a dream.
“I can’t begin to describe what Heaven is like. It’s simply not possible to understand on human terms the reward that awaits us for our mitzvos,” she said. “But I can give you a small understanding. Do you remember the time we were delivering food to that old lady and it was dark and we couldn’t find her house? We circled and circled the block and eventually I spotted the house and pointed to it. The extra reward that I received for simply pointing is beyond description.”
Two years ago I decided to try and learn a perek of the Rambam’s Yad Hachazakah every morning after davening. That’s a thousand perakim of Rambam, and based on my calculations, I ought to have been getting ready for a siyum this summer.
But wouldn’t you know it, I’m not on track for that. Heck, I’m not even close. Some days I had to run off to work and didn’t have time to finish the perek. Sometimes the perakim were so long and arduous that they took a week or more to complete. Thus, after two years and two months working on this project, I’m only about a third of the way done.
Despite my dawdling, I know more Rambam than I did last year, and I’m learning more than I was last year. In fact, I’m so pleased with my small victories that tomorrow morning I may just high five the gabbai and do a little jig in the back of the shul.
Although, admittedly, spiking the sefer would probably be inappropriate.