I was 6 years old, cheering on Scotland. It was magical, my first ever world cup – summer 1978. My brother and I had our Panini album, collecting each teams’ stickers. I had the wall chart, followed every match.
The reason I didn’t cheer for England that year was because they didn’t qualify. However, they were there for 1982 and for me the quest for English World Cup glory began.
I have followed every World Cup since. The hand of God in 1986, the drama of the penalty shoot-out in 1990 and the most recent World Cup Semi Final loss in 2018.
Yet I will not be watching this year.
Let me explain.
A friend of mine sent me a WhatsApp this week, he wanted me to check over a short piece he had been asked to write about being Jewish for all the staff at his company. He finished with the following.
‘Most fundamentally, in terms of the impact on me at work, I try hard to be ethical. Like most religions, Judaism places a high value on kindness: to others, even to animals and the environment. It guides me to act with fairness and honesty. And like all religious people, I’m sure I fail from time to time, but I’ll keep trying.’
Kindness, fairness, honesty – these are the values not only of the Torah but on how humanity should act and live at all times.
We see this clearly in this week’s Parsha.
We are told that the Torah does not waste words, that every word is there to teach us something. Chaye Sarah is 105 verses, not a long sedra. The first 20 verses deal with the burial of Sarah. The next 67 verses are dealing with finding a wife for Yitzchak. The final 18 about the end of Avraham’s life. What is strange about the 67 verses, is that the story is repeated. Once when it happens and once when Eliezer tells it over to the family of Rivka.
Why the repetition?
The Midrash Rabba gives us an idea.
“Rabbi Acha said: The conversation of the servants of the patriarchs is greater than the Torah of their descendants – the parasha of Eliezer runs for two or three pages, and He repeats it over again. Yet, [the law of a] sheretz [insect that generates tum’a] constitutes a basic halacha of the Torah, and the fact that its blood renders tum’a like its flesh [is extracted] only from an additional word in a verse.” (Midrash Rabba)
The Torah devotes a sizeable amount of text, in effect, all of Sefer Bereishit, to tell us about the actions of our avot and imahot. According to Chazal, Avraham represents the attribute of kindness. Avraham, who constantly invited guests into his home, who showed concern for all people on earth, who fought on behalf of Sodom and Amora, reaches old age and asks his servant to find a bride for his son.
As he embarks on this mission to find the bride, Eliezer, who learned from Avraham’s example, knows on which basis he is to choose her. Beyond family background, the yardstick must be the girl’s middot, her character, to what extent she is capable of constantly excelling in the attribute of chesed, in her ability to give the very most.
Here again the Torah stresses the importance of kindness, fairness and honesty.
That is a far, far cry from what has happened in Qatar.
Kindness, fairness and honesty? More like cruelty, slave labour, countless deaths, corruption and greed.
Whether or not it was as many as 6500 migrant workers who died building the stadia, there is no question that there were thousands of workers that were kept in squalid conditions, made to work in extreme heat, for no pay. These workers were lied to, kept against their will and subjected to horrendous working conditions.
All of this happening in the 21st century, all of this happening when the western world is happy to virtue signal about every issue under the sun but when there are actual human rights violations, actual slavery occurring and actual racism against immigrants from poor countries – the world turns up to celebrate the ‘Greatest show on earth’.
Yes, the England team and others are ‘protesting’ by threatening to wear arm bands promoting ‘love for all’ or something like that, but that won’t bring back to life all the slaves that died to build these modern-day colosseums.
There is a concept in Halacha of ‘issur b hanaah’ – that you are forbidden to benefit from the product. For example, if you have a mixture of milk and meat, not only can you not eat it, you also cannot benefit from it.
In my mind, the World Cup this year should be ‘Assur B Hanaah’ we should not be allowed to derive benefit! It is shameful and an embarrassment to the world.
Yet of course, millions will watch, football will be played, and someone will win.
In line with the disgrace of this World Cup – it should be Iran!