Don’t let the fans down (Shabbos 55)

Hoshea was one of the greatest prophets of Israel.  And yet, at times it felt as if his preaching to the people was futile.  God turns to him and asks why he has been unsuccessful in his mission.  Says the Almighty, “Your children have sinned.”  Our Sages (Pesachim 87) note that the correct response to God’s charge would have been, “God, they are Your children, the children of your favoured ones, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.”  Instead, Hoshea replies, “So, exchange them for another nation.”

God decides to teach Hoshea a lesson.  He instructs him to marry Gomer, and they have three children.  However, Gomer strays.  God tells Hoshea to let her go and move on.  Hoshea responds, “But God, I have children from her!”  And God says to him, “If your wife has strayed and yet you insist on maintaining the relationship, how could I divorce my beloved Israel, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov?”

מֵאֵימָתַי תַּמָּה זְכוּת אָבוֹת? אָמַר רַב: מִימוֹת הוֹשֵׁעַ בֶּן בְּאֵרִי, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״אֲגַלֶּה אֶת נַבְלֻתָהּ לְעֵינֵי מְאַהֲבֶיהָ וְאִישׁ לֹא יַצִּילֶנָּה מִיָּדִי״. וּשְׁמוּאֵל אָמַר: מִימֵי חֲזָאֵל, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַחֲזָאֵל מֶלֶךְ אֲרָם לָחַץ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל כֹּל יְמֵי יְהוֹאָחָז״. וּכְתִיב: ״וַיָּחׇן ה׳ אוֹתָם וַיְרַחֲמֵם וַיִּפֶן אֲלֵיהֶם לְמַעַן בְּרִיתוֹ אֶת אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב וְלֹא אָבָה הַשְׁחִיתָם וְלֹא הִשְׁלִיכָם מֵעַל פָּנָיו עַד עָתָּה״.
ובשלהי ויקרא רבה רבי אחא אומר לעולם זכות אבות קיימת ולעולם אנו מזכירים אותם וכן הוא אומר כי אל רחום וגו’ ולא ישכח את ברית אבותיך וגו

From when did the merit of the Patriarchs cease? Rav said: From the days of Hosea, son of Beeri, as it is stated: “I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of My hand”. And Shmuel said: Since the days of Hazael, as it is stated: “And Hazael, king of Aram, oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz”. And it is written: “And the Lord was gracious to them, and had compassion on them, and turned toward them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and would not destroy them; neither has He till now cast them away from His presence”. 

Tosfos: According to the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba, Rabbi Acha says, ‘The merit of the patriarchs endures forever, and forever we mention them. Similarly, it says: For God is merciful . . . and He will not forget the covenant with your forefathers.’

Sometimes life can get you down.  It feels like you’ve made mistakes and wandered down a certain path.  The situation appears irretrievable.  And you’re tempted to give up hope.  When that happens, remember that you’re not in this alone.  You have the merit of the patriarchs and matriarchs to carry you.  God made a covenant with them and He does not forsake His love.

Picture yourself playing on the football pitch.  The game isn’t going so well and it looks like it’s game over, and not in your favour.  Suddenly, you hear a resounding rallying cry of support.  You turn around.  Sitting in the bleachers are your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  They’re cheering you on.  They have faith in you.  At that moment, you realize that you’re not just playing for yourself; all these people are counting on you.  There’s a lot more riding on this than you first thought.  You feel a renewed surge of energy and power, as you are propelled by the fans screaming your name.  And miraculously, against all odds, you’re able to win the game.

You’re not in this life alone.  You have generations of forebears cheering you on and rooting for your success.  They’re rooting for you, because they are your roots.  They have skin in the game, because you are their flesh and blood.  Your success is their success.  When you are victorious, everything they invested, everything they sacrificed throughout their lifetimes, becomes worth it.  They have faith in you and are betting on your success.

That knowledge is both empowering and daunting.  If you don’t succeed, it’s not just your loss.  You’ve let the team down.  The football player trying to keep his eye on the ball is not always focused on the millions of fans invested in him.  If he would think about the enormity of his actions in such grand terms, it might be too daunting to handle.  Nevertheless, there are times when it looks like the season isn’t going so well, that he lies in bed and thinks about all the people that are praying for his success.  And that motivates him to jump up and do his very best.

God made a covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah, that He would never forsake their family.  They, in turn, committed to serving Him and spreading His message of morality to the world.  They passed on the message to their children, and their children to their children.  With each passing generation, the pot of merit has grown bigger and bigger.  And now, it’s all yours to capitalize on.

And that’s the secret to your success.  True, if it were just about your merit, maybe you don’t deserve to succeed.  But this is not about you and your merit.  You are the ambassador of the generations.  And you will succeed, because you are backed by powerful people: your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, all the way back to our forefathers.

It’s not easy to make it to the top.  But never be discouraged by the challenges of life.  Because you have people who believe in you and are invested in you.  What’s more, our Father in Heaven made a pact with them that He would bring success to their children.  May you make everyone in the bleachers very proud!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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