Did you ever wonder why a round of golf is eighteen holes? Why not twenty or ten? The answer is obvious.
In Jewish literature, the number eighteen - chai, in Hebrew - means life. Much more than a few divits, pins, irons or woods, Golf equals life, and life is golf. Just ask any golfer. And does anyone really think that it is some freak coincidence that the word "golf" just happens to start with the first two letters of the word "God"? Yes, this is tongue-in-cheek, but if we look into the analogy we can learn some real lessons for life.
Golf is one of the few sports where you play against the fiercest, most challenging opponent that there is: yourself. There is no one else to crush in competition, no one to beat. Only yourself - and you never truly win. All you have is a target to shoot for - par, and sometimes even that isn't good enough, you need to go under par. You can always hit a purer shot, do better, strive for perfection.
Judaism teaches that the most powerful person is the one who conquers his inner demons.
Judaism teaches that the greatest battles in life are internal. The most powerful person is the one who conquers his inner desires to act like an animal.
Going beyond the playful "18" analogy, in many ways life and golf really are one and the same. You can hit a good shot, 250 yards straight down the middle, and then, just when you think you mastered it all, you duff it. Back to square one. It is how we handle the unexpected setbacks that show what we are really made of.
As a teenager, I played competitive golf. The participants were placed in groups, in little communities called foursomes. But you always knew, in spite of those you were playing with, you were alone. Your inner voice teased you as you stood before the ball, "Stu, you know you are going to slice it to the right ... you can't sink that putt ... who are you kidding?" (As one of my rabbis once taught, 90% of all personal suffering is self-inflicted.)
GOLF AND ROSH HASHANA
GOLF AND ROSH HASHANA
Rosh Hashana is coming quick. It's the anniversary of mankind, and therefore, it is the birthday of free will. It's the day when we try to sort out those inner voices and commit ourselves towards positive change - whether it's to sink that putt, or whether it's to direct our attitude about life for the better, to be the kind of person we always dreamt we could be. It's all within our power. That's true freedom.
Consider the sound of the shofar as a kind of a battle cry - tee-off time. A call for action. A call to battle. And, like golf, the battle is within yourself.
"We are in the midst of a constant, raging battle."
During the Rosh Hashana prayers, we cry out to be inscribed in the Book of Life. But why do we want life? What are we going to do with it? Real life is fighting the internal struggle. It is coming to grips with who we really are and taking an honest approach to the fairway of life. And in the midst of it all, you feel awake, focused, energized, alive.
Perhaps Tiger Woods has the secret. Play those eighteen holes of life aggressively. Work hard, and never give up trying to be better.
Anything less is a handicap.