Parasha Bo

Crossing Over to Idolatry
Two events stunned the world of sports this week, both off the playing field. This week Lance Armstrong, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, admitted to what he had adamantly denied over the course of his illustrious career — that he was a user of performance enhancing drugs while he was winning seven Tour de France cycling events. He also acknowledged that he sued others for defamation of character when he knew they were in fact telling the truth about his performance enhancing drug use. The second event from the world of sports was that of Notre Dame football star and Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te'o. His story of falling in love with a young Stanford Student who died of lukemia at the beginning of this season was revealed this week as a hoax. We are waiting now to see whether he was the victim of a hoax, as he claims, or the perpetrator of a hoax.  Time will tell. What we do know is that Notre Dame knew of the hoax on December 26 but said nothing to the media about it as the media continued to write and talk about the courage of Manti Te'o in the run-up to the national title game. What does Judaism have to say about this?  In our Thursday morning study group we are studying the prophets. The prophets of ancient Israel are always inveighing against idolatry. We have had some interesting discussions about idolatry and what it is. We usually associate idolatry with pagans making images of their gods that they then worship. The prophets ridicule these heathens. Their ridicule is captured in Psalm 115. Our, (Jewish) G-d is in heaven, governing the universe, while Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have a mouth and cannot speak, eyes and cannot see. They have ears and cannot hear. A nose that cannot smell. They have hands that cannot feel, Feet than cannot walk……. As we discussed in our class, the idolatry isn't only about the images that people made that represented their gods. They surely did not mistake the image for the real thing. The idol, after all, only represented the powerful god. They knew it was not the powerful god itself. Idolatry is also found in the values that those gods represented.  As we can see in the sorry episodes of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o, idolatry continues to be alive and well in our own culture. For idolatry means putting our values above the values the Torah teaches. The danger of idolatry in our society lies in our worship of winning at any cost, worship of the money that comes with winning, the fame, the power, the admiration and the influence that comes with being recognized as a winner in our culture. When Lance Armstrong and Notre Dame placed winning above truth, above honesty, we could say they were engaging in idolatrous behavior, just as surely as were the Canaanites who sacrificed their children to Molech in the Vally of Gehinnom in Biblical times.  There was another story in the world of sports this week, one that did not get nearly the coverage of the Armstrong or Te'o stories.  Eleven year old Estee Ackerman, ranked fourth in the United States in her age bracket in ping pong, was disqualified from the 2012 US National Table Tennis Championship finals. Estee was not discovered to have been taking performance enhancing drugs. Estee was not injured. She had not been found cheating in any way. She had trained hard for six months, yet chose not to show for her finals match. The reason? Her match fell on a Friday night, the Shabbas. She told the New York Post, "Ping pong is important to me, but my religion of Judaism is also very important to me." We can all learn something from Estee Ackerman. We can love what we do, and we can all try to be the very best we can be. We can gain great satisfaction, even honor, and sometimes fame and fortune, in developing our talents to the greatest degree possible.  To work hard toward a goal is an admirable quality to have. But when we are willing to achieve that goal by paying any price; when the cost of achievement is transgressing of the moral values that Judaism teaches, we are trespassing into the area of idol worship. "You shall love the Lord you G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might," says the Torah.  When we love something more than we love pleasing G-d, we are crossing over into idolatry.    Shabbat Shalom