Thursday, July 08, 2010

Lessons from the World Cup part IV: "Eleven men"

What do a soccer team and a minyan have in common? Not much, I hear you say (although players do occasionally pray on the field). 

Ten men make a minyan, eleven a soccer side. (Admittedly eleven men make the minyan more pleasant, because then one can use the bathroom without stopping play).  On the face of it, there's no meaningful link between the Jewish prayer quorum and a traditional football squad. 

Besides, ten is a big number in Judaism. G-d used ten utterances to create the World, Judaism is based on the Ten Commandments and Ten Sefirot or Divine energies form the framework of Creation.

Eleven is, apparently, insignificant. 

On closer inspection, eleven connotes an interesting spiritual mystery. One of the most sacred rites of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was the ketoret incense. Ketoret was the only offering ever brought into the holiest inner sanctum of the Temple. Unlike the other offerings that were essentially food, the ketoret was a fragrance. Smell is the sense that the mystics associate most strongly with the soul, so this incense is considered especially spiritual. When a plague threatened hundreds of thousands of lives in the desert, Moses sent his brother out with the Ketoret to stop the dying. Ketoret is powerful stuff.

The recipe for the Ketoret spice calls for eleven ingredients. 

Remember, ten is the number of holiness. It is considered a whole, or perfect number. Ten represents the organised system of life in balance. A system made of eleven elements seems to carry something tagged on to an otherwise complete system. Kabbalah calls it the number of the unholy. 

"Holiness" means harmony between Creator and creation. It is the symbiotic relationship between our Maker and us. "Unholiness" implies a disconnect, where a person feels detached from the source of his own life. Such an individual sees his life as a complete entity and G-d as distant "great uncle", who occasionally drops by with an inappropriate gift. To be "unholy" is to live an eleven-part life, ten parts of integrated self that live tenuously linked to a remote power source called G-d. It is to breathe each day and forget the value of oxygen.

To combat the negative "eleven", you need to invoke a healthy "eleven". Either way you look at it, eleven expresses a deviation from the wholesome system represented by ten. A corrupt "eleven" means that someone has detached from G-d. A positive "eleven" means that someone has transcended the normal ten-point system and now operates with super-rational dedication to G-d. The ketoret was that "holy" eleven, an offering strong enough to stop death itself in its tracks.

In 1980, the Lubavitcher Rebbe shared a valuable life's lesson that we could all learn from soccer. He compared the ball to the Earth and the goal-posts to the gateway to G-d. We have been put on this Earth with a mission, to get the world through the "king's" gateway and into G-d's palace. Achieving our goals has its challenges, most notably the negative forces (the corrupt "eleven") that block our spiritual progress. Often, the other side appears to be more powerful than we are, and we may feel we're not up to the task. It's at those times that we need to recall that G-d empowers us with our own "eleven", the supernatural wherewithal that ensures we will win the game.

No comments: