Lessons in Emunah from…Professional Wrestling
“If only we could more clearly remind the world of the good that the Jews have brought it; if only the world realized that Judaism is the source of Western moral values; if only the world would understand that Israel is fighting more humanely than any military known to man, defending itself against unprovoked attacks from its malicious neighbors who seek its annihilation…” We can’t understand why the world hates us and cannot see things with a modicum of objectivity. It can be so upsetting.
Rabbi Avi Shafran recently penned a beautiful and brilliant column, When I Drifted Off the Path, in which he described his very short-lived pre-adolescent flirtation with heresy. In order to briefly address the points about anti-Semitism raised in the above paragraphs, I would like to share and draw from one of my own juvenile, inelegant interests: professional wrestling. Tampa, Florida, where I grew up, was once the South’s capital of professional wrestling, and this entertainment sport, headquartered at Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, was the craze of the local “good ol’ boy” types – as well as us local Jewish day school boys in fourth and fifth grade.
After viewing a few wrestling matches, I naively asked my father why in the world the losers of the matches acted so foolishly so as to not have noticed their opponents about to pounce upon them from the third rope (the highest rope around a wrestling ring) and smash them to the ground with their heels, as well as why the referee always happened to be looking the other way every time a wrestler broke the rules (including pouncing from the third rope, as well as anesthetizing the opponent with a “secret cloth” that a wrestler stored in his briefs and placed on the opponent’s face when the latter was somehow not looking), and why the referee happened to turn back around just in time to see the illegally kicked or anesthetized opponent lying flat on the ring and hence be declared the loser.
My father explained to me that the whole “sport” was staged; it was pure theatrics, with everything planned out and executed accordingly. No need to be perplexed by the apparent cluelessness of the referee or the about-to-be-defeated wrestler when the opposing side flagrantly breaks the rules (including the frequent occurrence of the wrestling managers jumping into the ring for 15 seconds to pound the opposing wrestler or smash a chair over his head, always unnoticed by the referee). I was so relieved by my father’s words, as my sense of justice had been restored. My hunch that the constant, striking patterns of inequity in the wrestling ring just couldn’t have all been sheer coincidence was validated, and my frustration ceased. (I then immediately wondered why all of the adults in the audience always appeared to get so worked up about the “unfairness” of the wrestling matches, shouting in vain toward the ring, “Y’all look – turn around, ref – he’s takin’ a chair to his head!”, but that is another topic…)
The nimshal (case under comparison) here is clear. Chazal (the Talmudic Sages) tell us that anti-Semitism is an inherent component of the human condition; it was divinely ordained and is part of the planned existential stage that is Jewish life. We need not be mystified, dumbfounded and frustrated by the world’s irrational and negative fixation with the Jewish People, especially when our enemies and so many others are committing unspeakable atrocities that the international community conveniently fails to notice. We need not seek to change our identity or modus operandi, hoping that it will solve the problem of anti-Semitism. Yes, we must daven for the welfare of K’lal Yisroel, its Land and all else, and we must put forth serious hishtadlus (human effort), but we must also accept the fact that all that transpires is part of a larger plan that we do not always understand. Anti-Semitism is vile, it is deadly, it contravenes all reason – yet it is inescapable and is something that we have to accept. It is a Gezeiras Ha-Melech (Decree of the King), along with so many other preordained behavioral patterns and axioms that defy human logic.
Many a kiruv lesson has been built upon the uniqueness of the Jewish People. Its miraculous endurance for millenia – a nation so minuscule, exiled and persecuted – yet still here after thousands of years and forever pounding away, while those ginormous nations and mega-powers which have dominated and decimated the Jews throughout antiquity and beyond have disappeared. We are a nation so tiny and discriminated against, historically denied fair educational opportunities and excluded from so many professions, yet we boast more Nobel laureates than any other people. These phenomena are naturally inexplicable and are truly miraculous.
But let us also consider and be ironically and powerfully inspired by the glaring, too-crazy-and-irrational-to-be-coincidental manifestation of anti-Semitism and negative fixation on the State of Israel by the international community – pointing to a Higher, Divine Source for this existential decree; a decree that will endure until the Eschatological Era, when genuine and lucid justice and truth will be manifest in our midst, and God’s plan for the universe will be better understood by all.
When something seems too clearly staged to be mere coincidence, and it defies any natural explanation, it opens up a new perspective and vistas of reality, even if that something is terribly ugly and vile. This is the lesson in emunah that a certain popular Southern sport can teach us all.