Holiness? On a Tennis Court

The Mission Statement of Judaism can be expressed in two Hebrew words: Tikuun Olam - repair an imperfect world. Only two Hebrew words, but what an epic assignment. So many holes in humanity's ragged shirt - so little thread.

Where to start? It's like brushing clouds off the blue sky with a broom. But the impossible dream comes true, say the Tzadiks, the Holy ones, when we make ourselves whole. Our smallest act of kindness hastens that healing process. Heal yourself and you heal the world.

Well, to move from the sublime to the trivial, consider what happened to the world of tennis in early May. It's the Rome Masters. Roddick, a top rated U.S. player is leading in the second of a 2 out of 3 set. One more point and he wins the game, set, and match. One more point, that's all it takes. More fame, more money will be added to his heap of worldly riches.

His opponent, deluded by stadium, court, and chattering crowd thinks this is a tennis game - not a courtroom of ethics - serves. "Out!" screams the umpire. Roddick wins, the crowd roars.

Now, read carefully, because here's where the Twilight Zone or something much more magnificient, envelops the stadium. Roddick waves his arms - he overrules the call (the call in his favor). He points out the scuff mark on the court clearly showing the ball is IN! A point for his opponent. The crowd is hushed - so is the watching world.

Roddick goes on to lose the match. Yes, it's only a game, but Roddick, whose serve is a 135mph cannon shot, has taken a small baby step for mankind. The three rabbis in the world who play tennis are laughing and grinning with glee. For years, they will cite an American sportsman named Andrew Roddick for his honesty. Maybe we CAN repair the world.

Starvation in Darfur is ghastly and in Angola a 4 year old lies in a hut dying of Malaria and oppression stalks the world. But still - a Sportsman's honesty brightens the world.

Now it's two days later. Same tournament in Rome. Agassi, another top rated U.S. player, is beating up his opponent. Now, a second lightning bolt. He, Agassi, overrules a call in his favor. Agassi's point becomes his opponent's point. He loses. He's out of the tournament. But that's not important say the rabbis.

His heartwarming honesty - yes, even so minor an event as the descent of a tennis ball weighs in the heavenly scale - remedies an imperfect world. And best of all, it's a sacrifice. He who would dare play the game must pay a price. No pain, no gain.

You must understand the scoring mechanism. A head judge or referee and several assistants in strategic locations make the calls; in or out, they rule. Though players frequently protest calls that go against them, the referee has the ultimate authority. And often the player - since he's down on the court, has the best view of the ball on his side of the net. Typically, overwhelmingly when the player KNOWS the referee has made a mistake in his favor, he looks away and bites his tongue. He rationalizes; oh well, it all evens out. "He probably made a bad call or two against me earlier." That's like you accepting change from a 20 instead of a 10 and thinking, thanks, I must have been shortchanged at least two or three times this year. It is a historic event for a player to insist that he should LOSE the point. It is not done.

There's holiness in the smallest of things, say the Chassids: in Torah and the mouse nibbling cheese. Even in a tennis match.