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Shabbos and Competition

Shabbos and Competition

We should only be competitive with ourselves.


Shabbos is a grand equalizer. All Jews become kings and queens on Shabbos. We all go "on vacation" to the same resort hotel called the serenity of Shabbos. We dress our finest, eat the same basic delicacies, and enjoy family time. There is no competition when it comes to Shabbos.

The Sanzer Rebbe once said: "I don't ever want to sleep on Shabbos. All Jews are kings when Shabbos arrives and we shouldn't sleep through our reign. There was once a king who slept very little at night declaring, ‘When I sleep I am not a king. I am no different from any other slumbering soul.' Let's not waste Shabbos by sleeping through it."

All Jews are kings on Shabbos. There is no competition. There is only peace.

Unfortunately, these peaceful feelings do not always translate into the week. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg said that competition is not healthy for one's character. If I can only succeed by putting you down, chances are I will wish for you to fail more than I want to succeed. Yet we live in an environment that motivates through competition. Our schools have student-comparison charts on the bulletin board and Bees to determine who knows the material best. The focus has shifted from "who knows things well" to "who knows things best." This is "gaining respect through another's disgrace," conduct the Torah abhors.


If all I have to do to be successful is to beat you, it's a whole lot easier to cause you to do worse than me, rather than to get myself to do better than you. The result is that students will not push themselves to truly reach their personal maximum if all they have to do to flourish is defeat someone else. And what happens to the weaker students who know that they cannot actually win the competition? What is their drive to do their best? Does it really make sense to reward the brightest students more for easily winning than the slower ones who are doing their best?

It is true that "the envy of scholars increases wisdom" (Baba Basra 21a) but this does not mean we should compete with someone else. We are supposed to observe the accomplishments of those around us, learning from them in motivating ourselves to excel as best as we can. We don't rival others; we learn from their example.

Watch kids when they play sports. Do they play for exercise and for the development of their skills, or do they play in order to win? Have you seen the way otherwise pure, good-natured kids, will transform into screaming tigers on the baseball field? "He was safe!" "No way, he was out!" When the kids choose up sides, do they try to even out the teams so they will have a good competition, or do they seek to get the best players in order to win the contest? Aren't they humiliating their friend in public when they avoid picking the "loser" players? How does the last kid picked feel when nobody wants him?

Yes, we should be competitive, but only with ourselves. Winning does not have to mean defeating someone else. It can be accomplished by struggling against ourselves, trying to improve upon our personal past performance. Shabbos comes to remind us that all Jews are equal as long as we are striving to grow and become better. Shabbos reminds us that competition is not a Torah value. We are all kings and queens on Shabbos, as well as during the week.

Excerpted from "More Shabbos In My Soul" (Feldheim 2008) by 'Kol Yaakov' columnist, Rabbi Boruch Lef. The book. is the second volume in this highly successful series and is sure to add even more spiritual power to your Shabbos. Click here for more information:

July 19, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Jeff, April 30, 2010 5:27 AM

competition is good

Rabbi, What in this world isn't competitive? If we teach our young that everyone is the same and we all win we will have a society of average people. The person that gets picked last in the game has the opportunity to practice and get better to strive to push himself or herself. We compete everyday and competeing has made this country and Israel the best countries in the world. As soon as we stop teaching our young to compete we will lose that intensity and drive that makes us go the extra mile. Look at the stands of a Baseball team that is in last place!

(5) chava, July 21, 2008 11:15 AM

queen on shabbat?

Yes, one can be a queen on Shabbat, but, in my experience, only when I make Shabbat for myself alone. If I have guests, or if I am someone else's guest, I constantly have to worry that I'm not doing enough to make it nice for everyone and to help, and by the time Shabbat has ended and I'm finally alone, I'm exhausted and not feeling as if I just had a royal experience. It's probably not in the actions, but rather in the attitude --- as with sports and games and everything.

(4) Daniel, July 20, 2008 6:58 PM

Criticized for NOT being Competitive


Throughout my life, I have often been criticized for NOT being competitive enough. In fact, even though I enjoy winning any game being played, the victory always seems hollow somehow. And as every competitor knows, you are only as good as your next game.

After reading this article, I now know why I have always enjoyed sporting events -as a participant and spectator - where the only competition was the clock, e.g., timed downhill skiing events. As it was always about personal best.

I also play an ancient board game known as Go. It is very abstract, and flowing, yet no matter how beautiful the final black and white patterns of the stones look on the board, they [the stone patterns] always look best when one wins.

However, I have usually noticed, that after a string of victories, that I start to feel badly for the person that I am about to defeat. And within the last several months, I have begun to wonder if beating others in competition was healthy for my [and my opponents] neshamah. After reading this article, I have my answer. I must only compete with myself.

Thank-you so very much for your timely article R' Leff, as the month of Elul, and heightened introspection, is just around the corner.

(3) ruth housman, July 20, 2008 6:46 PM

the competitive spirit

I think there are times competition is OK and fun, as long as we don't take ourselves too seriously in so doing and as long as we end the game shaking hands and admiring the skill of our competitors. Sometimes it's true that a game becomes more than a game, and perhaps a kind of escape. Certainly the sports buffs will say it's a great thing to be involved and passionate about "their game". I see no problems with this. Some win and some lose. It's all in the spirit with which we play. The game itself should be of course, less about winning, because it's so true, we are all winners and losers all the time and certainly the deeper game of life itself, should be, about what happens internally as stated.

(2) Mary, July 20, 2008 12:45 PM

Thank you

Thank you. That was a very timely article.

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