In my sophomore year of high school, I struggled to get playing time on the basketball team. Although I was the first player off the bench by the end of the season, it took tremendous work, determination, and patience. My parents sat me down after the season ended and told me that they were proud of me. I can remember my dad, who has coached basketball for decades, saying “your perseverance will help you in whatever you want to do, beyond just basketball.”
This week’s sacred quality of focus during the counting of the Omer is netzach, or perseverance. In many regards, perseverance is the story of the Jewish people. The phrase “netzach Yisrael,” or “Israel’s perseverance,” from the Book of Samuel (I Samuel 15:29) has come to characterize the Jewish experience, enduring from generation to generation through time, place, and hardship. In our prayers, too, we recite the phrase “ul’netzach netzachim” to describe the infinite nature of our ongoing Jewish expression. Perseverance is an important quality for both Jewish individuals as well as the Jewish collective.
In addition to netzach capturing the determination and fortitude it takes to persist through challenging circumstances, it also represents the timelessness of Judaism and Jewish values. The pillars of Jewish practice, Torah, prayer, and acts of loving-kindness, can effectively ground and inspire us through competing values of the societies in which we live. These pillars already have persevered through countless kingdoms, civilizations, polities, and countries. As I once heard climate activist and author Daniel Sherrell say, “religion and spiritual practice are ‘boulders’ amidst the (challenges and pressures of the world).” Like a boulder, Jewish tradition perseveres.
Perseverance is essential in our own lives–during junior varsity basketball and beyond–and to Jewish tradition. The sacred quality of netzach can inspire us to go get what we want and to preserve our heritage which has endured for so long already. Perhaps Shabbat is the perfect day to do both: Do that which fills up our beings, despite competing factors on our time, and to take part in a Jewish tradition that has persevered for thousands of years.