The Surfing Rabbi
I've crossed paths with this guy a few times. He strikes me as a nice and generous person. I don't think we've ever said more to one another than "Hello," but he always smiles (and doesn't give me the I've-never-seen-a-black-woman-surf-before-so-I-must-stare-long-and-hard-at-her-to-make-sure-I'm-not-dreaming look). Don't ask how I got to chabad.org, which is where I found this article. I know there are some black Jews in the world. I'm not one of them so it's not like I was on the site on purpose. However, I'm glad I found it because it gave me this article.
SURFING MALIBU WITH MAIMONIDES
By Nachum Shifren
There it is! You've managed to weasel your way out of the San Diego Freeway madness and by divine intervention, are now out of the Sears Tunnel at the Santa Monica Pier where you can see the white-water bouncing like carroms on the harbor rocks --true to form, the biggest swell of the summer--and you're on it!
You're careening up the Coast Highway, pulling off maneuvers that would pale Evel Kenievel, with only one goal in mind: to get to the 'Bu before the after-work crowd launches their long-boarder juggernaut. You round the corner at Topanga and . . . NO! It can't be!! A rock slide narrows traffic to only one lane! Anger, frustration, and wild rage build up as the day you've been waiting for slips through the endless back-up of motor homes and gawking tourists.
By the time you pull into the parking lot, it looks like the annual "White Sale" at Bullocks, and the crowds threaten to drown out your stoke.
Funny thing, you're not alone! First Point looks like the Eureka County annual loggers convention and 2nd Point has about 20 caneras covering every radical maneuver of the 150 surfers out. Insane wipeouts, drop-ins, collisions, all turn the crowd into a circus act. Fights are the rule and exchanges are generally brief, if not fiery.
You sit in the line-up, with a deep, low-level anger keeping your intent stare away from every other human being in your radius. Likewise, everyone else out is a cauldron . . . unto himself.
Several hundred years ago, there was a Rabbi named the Baal Shem Tov, ("Master of the Good Name") who remonstrated his followers to learn from every thing they saw. The wind, the rustling of the leaves, each daily encounter was a lesson in a spiritual life.
Everywhere we are told, "Follow the middle path" "Don't be too extreme" "Moderation is the rule!" The Torah tells us that these utterances apply in most cases -- one exception is arrogance and anger. The language of Maimonides (12th century codifier of Torah law) here is interesting: "If a man is humble, he is not following a good path. Rather, he must hold himself lowly and his spirit very unassuming." That is why the Torah describes our teacher, Moses, as 'very humble' and not simply humble (Numbers 12:3)... The sages further declared: whoever is arrogant is as if he denied G-d, as implied in: 'And your heart will be haughty and you will forget G-d.' (Deuteronomy 8:14)...
"Regarding anger, the sages said the following: 'If one is a wise man, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his prophesy leaves him. The life of the irate is not true life . . . one should distance himself from anger and accustom himself not to feel any reaction, even to things which provoke anger. This is the good path." (Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Character, chapter 2)
Meanwhile, our young surf-star, totally blown away and demoralized, can take solace from the famous remark of the grandfather of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku: "There's always another wave." Phil Edwards, perhaps the greatest surfer of all time -- (yeah, dude, go ahead and laugh! You try stuffing yourself in at the pipe on a 10', 40 lb. log that more resembled a guillotine than a surfboard!) never won a contest and his ability and humbleness were even admired by his colleagues.
Dare we mention the "Oxbow Incident", where a "surfer" mercilessly pummeled a fellow surfer because he "was in the way"! Let me tell you, I was there that day and it was south winds -- junk! That's what people kill each other for?!
We are the luckiest of all the earth's inhabitants. The fact that we can partake in the mightiest power of all creation is as uplifting as it is awesome. And what better thing to share with another human being? How much there is to learn from that 6' swell at the 'Bu. Amazing: We actually have to share something! Incredible: The discovery that the world really doesn't revolve around us!
Next time you paddle out, look toward the West at the setting sun and the perfect peeling waves that were certainly created for Man to ride, and think to yourself: "How lucky I am to be alive!"