Re’eh: How to reach the Summitt
This week’s torah portion Re’eh, states the following: “If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and provide him that which is sufficient for all he is lacking.”
Most interpretations of these two verses focus on the needs to give monetary assistance to those who don’t have enough (focusing on the “needy person” ). It can easily be interpreted to mean that we must come forward to aid those who are in any kind of need- financial, emotional, spiritual. How do we create a culture where we volunteer, no strings attached, to help those who are in need? Maybe its a task as simple as opening a door or as complicated as going to battle.
With all of the great mascot names in college sports (horned frogs, artichokes, banana slugs, fighting camels to name a few), one mascot, above the lions, bears, and tigers, shows this need to step up to the plate. No matter the score, come out to play and play hard. I’m talking about the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State,” a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee.
Amidst the scandals that have marred the men’s basketball and football programs, the Lady Vols basketball team, and its longtime coach Pat Summitt, have shown that you can create a powerhouse program without breaking the rules. A charismatic, insightful and caring coach is all a program needs to recruit the best and brightest athletes. The Lady Vols are a blessing to the University of Tennessee. It was difficult, then, to hear Pat Summitt deliver the news yesterday that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Her response? “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’’ll make sure of that.” Coach Summitt is a fighter and I’m confident she will stand up and fight; she will thrive and overcome any obstacle in the foreseeable future. But it’s in these moments that we often ask- why her? A brilliant basketball mind- it’s as if God is playing some cruel joke. In a somewhat unrelated story, Coach Dean Smith of UNC has also struggled with memory loss and other health issues.
The opening line of this week’s parsha states “See this day before you a blessing and a curse.” On the surface, the parsha seems to contend that if you follow God’s ways, you are blessed; if you don’t follow, you are cursed.
First off, the word bracha, often translated as blessing, can also mean “bounty” or “plenty.” When faced with an adversity, a disease in this case, we have a choice- to wake up each morning and think of this disease as a curse- to shut down, to stay down when we’ve been pushed over. Or, we can consider looking at our lives- seeing the blessings and the bountiful sources of love and support around us. As Coach Summitt fights this battle, there will be days that she wants to curse out to the world. Pain, and more significantly public pain, is hard to handle at any moment. Summitt always has the summit on her mind- to remain at that championship level, to teach young basketball players the fundamentals of basketball and of life. Summitt stated “If anything, it’s going to inspire me more to help them.” May we all take a moment to look out at our lives- to count the bountiful riches of strong friendships and families, to see every day as a blessing.