A Good Handshake

The WORD – 10/10/13.  As I was driving to New Providence for an interfaith clergy meeting, I heard a most interesting news item on the radio.  Apparently the Kentucky High School Athletic Association has adopted a new policy banning handshakes after games and meets in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling (click here to read more).  Teams are no longer allowed to line up after a competition in order to congratulate the other team on their effort.

So, why would a state athletic association want to ban a practice which has long epitomized good sportsmanship?  Simply put, there have been too many fights that have broken out during the customary handshake lines.

Rather than trying to figure out why these fights are happening and trying to address the underlying issues, the supposed adults decided to dispense with the whole thing.  How sad.

In truth, there is a precedent for their decision in this week’s Torah portion.  In Genesis 13, we read of the ongoing arguments between Abraham and Lot.  “And there was quarreling between the herdsman of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle… Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen.  Is not the whole land before you?  Let us separate: if you go left, I will go right; and if you go right, I will go left.”

By the end of the Torah portion, however, we learn that this was not a practical solution.  Abram ended up having to track Lot down in order to help him out of a difficult situation.  It would have made far more sense to find a way to resolve their differences and live together.

Sadly, we see this exact theme play out over and over again throughout history.  Any student of the Middle East knows that when nations ignore one another, it does not lead to peace.  Peace can only come through dialogue and negotiation.

Similarly, in our country today, we see similar strife among “kinsmen.”  Our religious and political worlds are growing more and more polarized.  People are gravitating toward the ends of the spectrum both politically and religiously.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with being on either end of the spectrum, the problem is that there are fewer people in the middle who can serve as a bridge between the disagreeing parties.

Our political “leaders” have clearly forgotten how to speak and negotiate with people who have different ideas than they do about the direction of our country.  I am not sure that any of us has the capacity to repair what needs repairing.  It will take an Abram to reach out to the other side and extend a hand, but who knows when or if that Abram will appear.

However, perhaps, we can lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow by teaching our kids how to shake hands with the other team after a sporting event.





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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