April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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The official Pro Football Hall of Fame website named Jerry Rice “the most prolific wide receiver in NFL history with staggering results.” Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world, even defeating the much younger and larger George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Even today, three years after his tragic death, Kobe Bryant still leads the league with eight major NBA records. And who can forget watching Jimmy Connors rule the tennis court back in the day? Comedian Joan Rivers slaved night and day for little money, lugging large recorders, taping and studying her act for seven humbling years until Carson made her a star.

And so the debate has always been whether these were supremely gifted people or did they develop this talent?

The answer appears to be both.

First, you have to determine if the ability is there to begin with. After all, if you have the heart and drive to sing like Sinatra but you just happened to be tone deaf and have an unpleasant timbre in your voice, well, good luck with that.

But if you have talent, the second component is equal to—and in many cases, even surpasses—the first. Effort.

All of the great athletes have talent, but it is equally matched by their desire to win. Muhammad Ali, Kobe Bryant and Jerry Rice were the first in the gym and the last to leave. A teammate of Kobe Bryant once remarked that when they finished their practice and showered, they would go out for dinner. Many times, they would hit a club, and Kobe would politely decline and go back to the gym and start the process all over again. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire slid across the dance floor with unparalleled skill and beauty, but the amount of hours they suffered through blisters, ankle sprains and more wasn’t a pleasure. Connors’ mother built him his very own tennis court and trained him when he was a toddler.

The surgeon who removes a tumor or replaces a heart valve didn’t come out of the box that way. Rather, they spent many sleepless nights perfecting their craft and paying their dues. Indeed, the Gemara explains, “If someone says I have not toiled and learned, do not believe him.”

Our service towards God is no different.

If we wish to rise above the average guy, we have to fight for it. Those muscles don’t come out of a box.

Moshe Rabbeinu had every excuse in the world to continue living a blissful life of comfort in the palace of Pharaoh. The Torah clearly tells us that he went out to observe the burdens of his brothers, leaving his comfort zone. Yet it was this very aspect of going beyond the norm that catapulted him from a prince of Egypt into the greatest leader of klal Yisroel.

We can certainly daven a quick Shacharit at home, send our kids to Jewish day school, write a check to the synagogue, and that would be quite all right. But there is a higher level. The one that separates the regular players from Kobe, Wilt or Bird…

Going the distance.

This idea is clearly delineated by the juxtaposition between Noah and Abraham. The Torah tells us clearly that Noah walked with God, whereas Abraham walked ahead of God. The implication being that Noah did what he was told, whereas Avraham went the extra distance. Noah’s commitment is encapsulated by the seven mitzvot of Noah, the bare minimum requirement upon all of mankind. But Avaraham took it to the next level, setting klal Yisroel up for greatness by taking upon another 606 commandments at Har Sinai.

A friend of mine called me last week and said “Avi, you’ll never believe it. I finally did a tahara.”

I was incredulous because this guy had been calling several chevra kadishas in the New York area, but there were waiting lists and too many volunteers. Nevertheless, year after year he’d ask around until one day someone finally returned his call, and within a few months he had completed seven taharas.

Sure, he could have given up, reasoning to himself that he made the effort and that would be that. Yet superstars aren’t made that way.

Sure, he could’ve walked alongside God, as Noah did, reasoning that he tried his best. But he wanted more, so he chose to emulate Avraham who walked ahead of God, shaping his own destiny by making this extra effort and going the distance.

Sometimes, when we see a holy rebbe or a great person, we think to ourselves, “I can’t do that. I’m not in their league. I don’t have their talent.” Perhaps. But it is our efforts that separate a Noach from an Avraham. If Jerry and Kobe never went to the gym, all of their talent would not have been realized and we never would have heard of them. And if my friend didn’t relentlessly pursue getting on the chevra, he wouldn’t have achieved the level he’s at. Like the beloved film character Rocky Balboa, he went the distance, earning his own championship belt.

Avi Ciment lives in Florida and is a longtime columnist for The Jewish Press. He lectures throughout the world and has just finished his second book, “Real Questions Real Answers.” He can be reached at www.AviTalks.com.

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