SSeptember 8, 2017 – 18 Elul 5777
Everyone on the team, from the manager to the coach, from a secretary to an owner, has a role to fulfill. That role is valuable if the team is to come close to reaching its potential. The leader must understand this. Every single member of your team needs to feel wanted and appreciated. If they are on the team, they deserve to be valued and to feel valued. Do you want someone on the team who doesn’t feel necessary and appreciated? How do they find out unless you let them know?
— John Wooden and Steve Jamison, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
John Wooden is widely considered to have been one of the best basketball coaches of all time, certainly so at the college level. As a teacher, he is best remembered for his accessible manner. His understanding of psychology, motivation, and organizational behavior enabled him to teach life in the same breath as he did sports. Life’s players, he teaches, need to know that participation in the communal effort is valued. Whether we are at the center of the action or on the bench, we need to know we’re contributing to the team’s history, development, and success. If our efforts feel validated, that ultimately benefits the team.
The ceremony of first fruits in this week’s portion, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) is presented as a thanksgiving for God’s benefit (26:1-11). The Master Coach, however, seizes the opportunity to give everyone on Team Israel a moment to shine. Every player fulfills the obligation of showing up by bringing the basket of first fruits to the place-to-be-named-later. We follow the playbook,reciting the same formula that the rest of the team has practiced. And we all get meaningful minutes on the Divine court. The moment is ultimately an empowering one. Every player on the team participates equally. Every player is part of the narrative, sharing in the origins of the team’s history. Every player gets credit for having contributed to the team’s accomplishments.
In 11 days, we will gather as a community on Erev Rosh Hashanah to share our gifts with one another as well as support one another in our acts of teshuvah – repentance. As each individual Israelite gets the chance to highlight his or her contribution to the communal effort, a sense of pride, ownership, allegiance, and interdependence is fostered within the community. That is a winning formula for any team, or sacred community.