Friday, February 26, 2021

To see the race to the end

Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik in "The Jew Who Ran Away" on one of my favorite films:
.... The two runners we see in Chariots [of Fire] are a Jew named Harold Abrahams and a devout Christian named Eric Liddell. Abrahams is a Cambridge student angered by the subtle anti-Semitism he experiences; he determines that he will “take them on, one by one, and run them off their feet.” Liddell, in contrast, competes in adherence to the advice of his missionary father: “Run in God’s name, and let the world stand back and wonder.” The two are set against each other in the hundred-yard dash to determine who will be “the fastest man on earth,” but the qualifying heat is on a Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, and Liddell refuses to run. ....

For Liddell, faith had everything to do with his qualities as an athlete. “I believe God made me for a purpose,” he informs his sister in one of the central moments in the movie. “But he also made me fast; and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” After a committee of English aristocrats seeks unsuccessfully to pressure Liddell to run on Sunday, one of them reflects that Liddell “is a true man of principle, and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from his self.” ....

A rabbi watching the tale of Liddell and Abrahams cannot help but wish for the latter to be more like the former. Liddell’s example teaches us a great deal about faith. Speaking to an assembled crowd after a victory, he utilizes running as a metaphor for belief: “I want to compare faith to running in a race….Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” On the Sunday in which he was meant to compete, Liddell instead sermonizes from Isaiah: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings, as eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” ....

Last year, I took Yeshiva University students to Cambridge. We had come to look at the treasures of the Cairo Geniza, to see the handwriting of Maimonides and Judah Halevi, to see the intellectual achievements of a thousand years of Judaism. Yet I could not help but stop at the Great Court of Trinity College, where, in the film, Abrahams successfully completes the “college dash,” running around the square in 12 seconds. When he wins, one of the watching dons, played by the marvelous John Gielgud, sardonically sneers: “Perhaps they really are God’s chosen people after all.” Indeed we are; but Jews watching the film today must draw spiritual inspiration from the Christian Liddell rather than Harold Abrahams as they find the strength within to see the race to its end.
Meir Y. Soloveichik, "The Jew Who Ran Away," Commentary, March, 2021

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