Of Crowns and Cricket
It was the 9th March 2015 when it all fell apart.
England had just lost their fourth game out of five, this time to Bangladesh to send them crashing out of the Cricket World Cup.
Just over four years later they are the number one team in one-day cricket and are hopefully going to win the world cup for the first time on Sunday.
The lesson of the metamorphosis of the England cricket team led by captain Eoin Morgan can actually shed light on the challenge of Judaism in the modern era.
Confused? I shall explain.
The success of England’s cricket team was a realisation that they had to change, that they needed to
throw off conservatism and embrace free-spirited cricket. In many ways they had to play cricket in a very different way to the players that had come before. Yes, they had to take risks, but without those risks they would end up unable to compete and remain towards the bottom of world rankings and results.
Those risks entailed playing in an attacking manner which raised the potential for more runs but at the same time increased the risk for wickets – it would therefore need to be a balanced approach which would not always come off. Since the nadir of 2015 England have seen their results change from 38% wins to 75% wins.
The strategy worked.
When it comes to modern day Judaism you can see a similar pattern. As Rabbi Sacks said in his excellent pamphlet ‘A Judaism engaged with the world’ – ‘Today the two most powerful movements
in Jewish life are assimilation and segregation. Jews are either engaging with the world at the cost of disengaging from Judaism, or engaging with Judaism at the cost of disengaging from the world.’
To take this back to my cricket analogy – one group is determined just to score as many runs as possible even if this means they will lose all their wickets, the other is determined to protect their wickets as any cost, even if this means they score very few runs.
England cricket team’s solution was the same as Rabbi Sack’s – we need a balance. As far as the team was concerned, that was attacking cricket balanced with appropriate defence. As far as we are concerned, ‘We must be prepared to engage with the world, unashamedly and uncompromisingly as Jews. Otherwise we will find yet again that the choice will be either to assimilate or segregate, leaving no one left to challenge the world or make a contribution to it as a Jew.’
Morgan and co go even further which we can learn from. In their initial meeting with the team they realised it was not simply about trying to smash 4’s and 6’s, there had to be a change in the way the team played.
‘Look at the England logo‘, they told the team back in 2015. ‘See the crown on top of three lions. That crown represents the team. A vessel owned by no single individual and to be passed on to the next generation. Treasure it for it can be easily broken.’
This message of continuity fits seamlessly into our connection to our very own three crowns – our shelosha ketarim. Pirkei Avot explains (4:13) “Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns—the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty.”
The crowns refer to the tri partite leadership of the Jewish people – the Prophet (Torah), the Kohen (priesthood) and the King (sovereignty). We know that for Judaism to thrive we need to have a connection to all these areas. Indeed, the Tenach as a whole is an interweaving of their different voices. The priest speaks of separation and order, purity and impurity, the holy and the secular. The prophet speaks of relationships: justice and righteousness, compassion and mercy. The king uses the language of chochmah, (worldly) wisdom. Not accidentally, two of the great wisdom works of the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), are attributed to Solomon, the king who asked Hashem for wisdom and eventually acquired it in greater measure “than the wisdom of all the men of the East and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.”
The message – we need all three:
The Mishna then adds its final line in regard to crowns ‘but the crown of good name surmounts them all.’
The three crowns, the leadership we have and the Judaism we practice must be a Kiddush Hashem both within and without the Jewish community. Without that, we cannot expect to inspire the next generation.
So when I sit down to watch on Sunday I hope to see England’s transformation lead to a World Cup victory. I will also reflect on the need of the Jewish nation to transform itself into a nation which is proud of its Torah observance, its love for the State of Israel and its engagement and participation in the wider world and to make sure that in all that it does, there should be not even a semblance of a Chillul Hashem – a desecration of God’s name.
For that is just not cricket!