Move swiftly, and never underestimate the power of your lower limbs
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder of the Chasidic movement, famously taught that “from everything a that a person sees or hears about, he or she should derive a lesson in their service of the Creator.”
Hundreds of millions of people, in practically every country and community in the world, follow the World Cup games. That’s a lot of seeing and hearing. So if we’re to take a cue from the great Chasidic master, in addition to the games’ entertainment and therapeutic utilities, there is some significant lesson-taking to be gleaned as well from the hidden spirituality in soccer.
In an talk he gave in April of 1980, the Rebbe cited the above teaching by the Baal Shem Tov, and proceeded to explain how the game of “football” (as soccer is called outside of the of the United States) can serve as a model and metaphor for our mission in life.
The objective of the game is to move a ball into a “goal” or “gate.” This would be fairly easy to achieve were it not for the fact that facing the players is an opposing team which will do everything in its power to prevent them from scoring a goal. But then again, if there were no opposing team, the full extent of the players’ skill and power would never be actualized. For such is the nature of man: our most potent potentials are awakened only by challenge and adversity.
The ball can be maneuvered with various parts of the player’s body, but the game is played primarily with the feet. The game requires much skill, but no less important is the player’s speed—much depends on whether a player can outrun his opponent and maneuver more quickly than he.
The earth is a sphere—a fact noted nearly two thousand years ago by the Jerusalem Talmud. The objective of life is to move this “ball” into the shaar haMelech—the “gate of the King.” By fulfilling the mitzvot of the Torah, we move the world toward the goal of its creation.
At our every step, we are challenged by a formidable “opposing team,” composed of our own negative traits and habits and a host of external foes, who obstruct our advance toward the goal and seek to move the ball in the opposite direction. But it is the perpetual presence of this opposition that provokes our deepest potentials and maximizes our achievements.
The two key factors in achieving victory are speed and use of the feet. The most skillful player will be quite ineffective if his movements are slow, plodding, and unenthusiastic. Similarly, a person’s life must be animated with alacrity and joy in order that his deeds should translate into scored goals and true impact upon the world.
The other important lesson is never to underestimate the power of the feet. To advance the ball towards its goal, we make use of the full array of our faculties, from head to foot—our minds, our capacity for feeling, our talents and our physical energy. But our most important faculty is the “feet,” which represents our capacity for action and obedience. Although it constitutes the “lowest” and least sophisticated of our faculties, it is our unequivocal commitment to the divine will and the physical action of the mitzvot that has the greatest impact upon our world, and is the most powerful force for its advancement and ultimate realization.