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Cache of the Day: Elul

Sima Freidel Steinbaum

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The verb l’gayeis can be used in Modern Hebrew to mean “draft soldiers.” In his A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, Rabbi Dr. Ernest Klein translates gayis (root: gimmel-yud-samech) as army corps, legion, and says it’s related to the Aramaic giyasa (a troop) and also related to the Arabic word jaysh, army.

We also find this verb in Rus Rabbah, 10:6, in reference to Iyov 1:17, “This one was still talking, and another one came and said, “Chaldeans formed three bands …” The midrash there says, “Said Rabi Shmuel bar Nachman, When Iyov heard, ‘hitchil megayeis cheilotav l’milchamah… kamah gaisot ani yachol l’gayeis’$$separator$$” [He began to gather his legions for battle… how many soldiers can I summon, how many forces can I muster?]

Although the draft is a hot-button topic at the moment, lately I’ve been thinking more about the NFL draft than the army draft. (NFL, for those lucky enough not to know or care, stands for National Football League.)

The NFL draft, held each year in New York’s Madison Square Garden, is the gala event at which the stars of college football are chosen by the professional teams of the NFL. For months beforehand, each team checks out each college player thoroughly. And then the “generals” of each team assemble in what they call their “war room” to take turns making their picks. These untested and untried college boys are then given huge contracts, guaranteed money often adding up to millions of dollars before they’ve played one second of one game.

The term “draft” is also often used to mean an initial try, not the final version. When we come up with a “first draft” for something, it’s basically just brainstorming and throwing out our first ideas, to be cast aside later in favor of the final, perfected product. It’s amazing then, that many of these “first drafts” are already considered final products.

I’ve been thinking that Elul is both like a tentative first draft and the NFL draft.

During Elul, we

  • review our past year’s strengths / weaknesses / mistakes — our wins and losses record from last “season”;
  • try to pinpoint not only what went wrong and right last year, but what we can do, through our “picks” in this year’s draft, to further strengthen our strengths, and improve on our weaknesses;
  • pick the surest bets we can for a successful upcoming season and also for the years beyond that.

In the NFL draft there are often two kinds of players, future stars and those who can perform immediately.

The future stars need some nurturing, tutelage, time on the sidelines watching and learning. Some mitzvos / behaviors are like this, too. We might not be ready to take them on, all the way, right now. But we can still “draft” them. Slowly integrate them into our team. And eventually, with the right nurturing, those mitzvos/behaviors will be an integral part of our team, one with us.

And some new draft picks are ready to play right now. These are like the mitzvos and behaviors we’re ready to take on right now. No waiting necessary.

And of course there are our players from last year, who may have been with us for years already. What can we do to improve their game? Some may need a major overhaul. Some need just minor tweaks.

The key of course — for any coach — is knowing which are which.

So what’s this Elul’s draft plan? There’s an endless list of things we can take on or work harder at. Daily prakim of Tehillim. Getting to shul on time. Attending a shiur. Being more careful about tzniyus. Giving more tzedakah. Learning while commuting to work. Calling an elderly relative. Picking an hour a day for shmiras halashon. Etc. Etc. Etc.

And those actions we choose not to draft; are we passing them over for good reasons? Or do we just not want to be bothered working so hard to develop a new player? Are we just too comfortable with the players we’ve got, even though our win-loss record is just so-so, and not likely to improve?

When high-draft picks don’t perform according to expectations, they’re called “busts.” The higher the pick, the bigger the paycheck, the bigger the bust they’re considered if they don’t live up to their hype. There’s tremendous pressure. It’s not enough for them to do their best. They have to be the best. Or their owner trades or fires them.

There aren’t any “draft busts” in Hashem’s Eyes. Our Owner doesn’t care for Himself whether we win or lose; He rewards His players for effort. We just have to genuinely try to improve our win-loss record from last year. Unlike in the NFL, we don’t have to be the best. We just have to do our best to be our best. No one gets traded or fired.

And that’s why we try so hard for our Owner. Not only out of fear, but also out of love.


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