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Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Marathon Man

Operation Inspiration


A friend of mine sent me a message saying he was running in a marathon to raise money for a worthy charity. He was looking for sponsors and a number of his friends answered the call. Now, I’m not sure how running for miles and miles helps people in need, unless maybe you’re pushing them to the hospital, or perhaps you’re saving money on tolls and giving it to them, but that’s beside the point.

A marathon is a long race (26.2 miles for a whole, and 13.1 for a half (I know! It almost sounds like falafel, yum!)) which owes its name to the legend of a Greek soldier who ran from a battlefield near Marathon, Greece, to Athens, to bring news of a victory or a warning that a Persian ship was headed towards Athens. He considered it his duty to convey this news so he ran the entire distance on foot, then, after he relayed the message, he collapsed and died. No word on why he didn’t flag down someone with a horse or chariot, but history doesn’t record that he was the smartest fellow in the Parthenon, if you know what I mean.

In modern times, people took to recreating this race as a means of pushing themselves and testing their mettle. Then, fundraisers thought it would be great to ask for sponsors to raise money for runners’ charities. I guess they figured people would pay not to have to run themselves.

It got me to thinking about why we sponsor people for doing things that have nothing to do with us. You may be wearing out your sneakers on a road somewhere, or bowling for ten hours straight, or anything else, but why should I care? Sure, when you’re talking about kids and things like a Read-a-thon, where you sponsor them per book they read, I’m encouraging literacy. Then I feel I’m bettering society by bribing them when they’re young and hoping they keep it up. But what’s up with sponsoring runners and cyclists and all those other things?

Why do I care if they are doing something that takes stamina or persistence or skill or a sense of humor? Why should I take money out of my pocket and give it to them because of that?

The answer might surprise you.

First of all, usually these requests are coming from people trying to help a certain charity or organization they feel strongly about. When someone cares about something, that deserves some respect. When they’re willing to do more than just ask you to do something; when they’re ready to push themselves physically or intellectually, that takes it to another level. Of course, if what they are doing is a spiritual exertion, like learning Mishnayos or Gemara, or saying brachos with care, then that’s certainly something worth supporting. But even if it seems completely mundane, they’ve shown dedication, which leads us to our second point.

When you donate to campaigns like this, you’re benefiting the world at large. In addition to supporting a worthy cause, you’re encouraging good behavior. You’re encouraging people to put themselves out for what they believe in, to take steps to actualize the fundraising, and simply put, you’re encouraging people to continue caring.

You’re showing approval of people; making them feel good about themselves and about doing good. You’re empowering organizations to help people in myriad ways, and all that positive energy creates a wonderful flow of goodness in the universe. When we are good to each other, Hashem is good to us even more than He normally is.

I’ve heard that for the mitzvos between Man and G-d, we receive reward in the next world. However, for those between Man and Man, we also have to receive it in this world. Or at least, we reap the fruits of it here because that will help us to do more of it.

Chazal say, “Gadol ham’aseh, yoser min ha’oseh, Greater is the one who causes others to do, than the one who does it himself.” That works both ways. The fellow asking to be sponsored is getting me to do something I would not have otherwise. Since everyone has charities and causes that speak to them more than others, the odds are that I would not have donated to this organization without his involvement (if I wasn’t already.) He’s helping me expand my horizons with that little extra bribe of being able to help a friend achieve his goals.

On the other hand, I’m enabling him to reach his goal and therefore I’m also the one making him do something he might not otherwise. That means we’re both greater than we would have been had we each decided to do something on our own, without involving the other person.

In short, when we help others become better versions of themselves, and we take pride in their achievements, we are helping to create a better world… ahem… in the long run.


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