As the Olympics came to a close, the now well-known swimmer medalist Cullen Jones was asked to share his best memories of the 2012 Olympics. At the top of his list he, explained, was the athletes’ dining hall where he was able to sit with athletes from all over the world and simply have a conversation, even if they didn’t speak the same language.
It may have been difficult to get a ticket to the Olympics and nearly impossible to become a participant in the games themselves, but in our world today, it should not be so hard to have a lunch of Olympic proportions. Yet, this astute athlete noticed that one of the moments that made his journey to London remarkable was simply the diversity of people he was able to sit next to in the dining hall.
In our blessing after the meal on Shabbat our tradition asks us to recite these words az yomru va-goyim higdil Adonai la’asot im eileh, translated as “Then the [other] nations will say ‘Adonai has done great things for them.” Certainly there is some self-agrandizement in this statement wishing for other peoples to look upon us in awe. But there is another message as well: We are to bring other nations into our Shabbat table. We do so in song and prayer and hopefully, we do so in our daily lives as well.
In Jewish tradition one is not assumed to be of Olympic calibre in order to sit with those of other nations. Our elite lunches can happen through our relationships at work, getting to know our neighbors in our neighborhood and even taking the extra effort to talk to the person next to us on the train. But they rarely happen without any effort. Perhaps this is why this message of seeking other nations’ blessing is included in our prayer. It is no small feat to earn the praise of those around us. Moreover, in doing so, we not only bring blessing upon our people, but upon those we come to honor and respect.
Rabbi Josh Brown is the rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Omaha, NE and is a 2012-2013 Brickner Fellow.
Image courtesy of NBC.