Sixty-three years to the day that legendary Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge recently became the first person to run
a 26.2-mile marathon in under two hours. So, what does the Torah say about this?
Running a marathon is always a remarkable achievement, but even the most seasoned runners could not envisage such a feat – until now. When contemplating this, my thoughts immediately resonate with our own Jewish exodus from Egypt. No slaves had ever before escaped Egyptian servitude, yet a whole people marched out in their multitudes.
Although the Bnei Yisrael didn’t run out of Egypt, they certainly left “in great haste” (Devarim 16:3). It was an epic journey never imagined possible until it was achieved. It was a seminal moment in Jewish history, partly recalled almost obsessively in Jewish tradition, daily prayers and our festive cycle to bring home an important underpinning of Jewish life.
The Hebrew world for Egypt, Mitzrayim, has connotations of constraints and limitations.
The Israelites as slaves were considered worthless and incapable of anything significant. To be a Jew is to live with the reality of Yetziat Mitzrayim, not just awareness of the exodus, but also leaving the slave mentality far behind. With the Almighty’s help, we are capable of breaking through any limitations.
The entire existence of the Jewish people, a nation that has survived and indeed flourished under the most adverse conditions, is not “normal”. But we are not a nation that seeks to be “normal”.
Our mission of infusing the world with godliness and goodness requires us to aim higher than we may have thought possible, both as individuals and as a people. Great achievements, be they a four-minute mile, a two-hour marathon, surviving against the odds, or building the state of Israel all seem impossible until someone steps up to defy the norm.
As David Ben-Gurion said: “A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not
- Rabbi Naftali Schiff is founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures