Wise & Understanding People at the Olympics

Last week, at about this time, we Americans were outraged that a group of American athletes were robbed at gunpoint while participating in the Olympic Games.  What a difference a week makes!

Today, we all ought to be outraged that those four swimmers apparently lied about the attack.  Further, it appears that they themselves are guilty of vandalizing a gas station.  This is not exactly the behavior we expect from our Olympic heroes.

Now, some will argue that they were just a bunch of kids doing something silly.  And it’s true that they did not exactly commit a capital crime.  However, Ryan Lochte – the apparent ringleader of this group – is 32 years old.  That’s old enough to know right from wrong.  Plus, seeing as this is his third Olympics, you’d think that he would be familiar with the core Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.  He has exhibited none of the three as he got himself out of the country and left his three friends behind to clean up the mess.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe gave God’s core values to the Children of Israel.  We call them the Ten Commandments.  In giving these principles and teachings to the people, Moshe said: “In the eyes of the peoples, when they hear all these laws, (they) will say, ‘Only a wise and understanding people is this great nation… And who (else) is such a great nation that has laws and regulations so equitable as all this Instruction that I put before you today (Deut. 3:6-8)?”

In other words, when we live up to high standards and ideals, others look at us with admiration and even envy.  They want to be a part of it.  When we fail to meet them, we’re just some other group of people not worthy of notice or acclaim.  They look at us askance.

Some of the most memorable moments of the Olympics have nothing to do with winning or losing, but with how the athletes represent their countries and themselves with – or without – grace.

I can’t tell you who won the women’s 5000m race, but I can tell you about the American runner Abby D’Agostino who helped her competitor from New Zealand get up after a collision before they finished the race together.

I can’t tell you who is still competing for the gold medal in men’s judo, but I know that Islam El Shehaby of Egypt wouldn’t shake the hand of Or Sasson of Israel after Sasson won their match.

Winning is great.  I loved watching Michael Phelps and Simone Biles dominate in their sports.  But, I like it even better when people around the world look at our delegation and say, “Only a wise and understanding people is this great nation.”  Abby D’Agostino and many other American athletes elicited that kind of response.  Sadly, Ryan Lochte and his buddies did not.




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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