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The Best Of

December 31, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

What we can learn from year-end Top 10 lists.

It’s that time of year again – no I don’t mean New Year’s resolutions time or wild drunken party time. It’s list making time. Every year as December 31st nears, writers from every type of media outlet start printing their selections from the previous year – the best photos, the top ten football catches, my favorite 10 books, man of the year – the lists are endless. (Click here to see's list!) And what they all seem to have in common are the superlatives. Every list reflects the top or the best or the favorite or the highest-rated…

Why does there have to be a sense of competition to it? Why can’t we just make lists of things we particularly enjoyed – recipes I liked and want to share, books I enjoyed reading and think you will also, photographs I liked looking at and think are worth seeing – and so on. Wouldn’t that be nicer? Wouldn’t that be more relaxing?

We live in a world of so much pressure already; why add to it by suggesting that every experience has to be the best? Can it just be enjoyable? Pleasurable? Interesting? Can the pleasure partly be in the sharing of the experience with someone we love as opposed to checking it off some must-do list?

I always get nervous when someone tells me how fantastic a particular trip is going to be; it sets the expectations high which is somehow proportionate to the risk of disappointment.

And when everything has to be the best we seem to lose all sense of discrimination. Whenever I go to a Broadway show there is always a standing ovation. Take it from me; not every show or performance deserves it. But we’ve already been prepared. We’ve been told we are at the best show with the top actors with so many Tony nominations…of course we are going to keep applauding. It’s the best experience, isn’t it?

One of the lessons of Hanukkah (have we forgotten already?) and a fundamental tenet of Judaism is that we don’t believe in competition in the physical world (and only use competition in the spiritual world as a motivation for growth!). I am not being tested against you or anyone else. You are not being measured against me or your siblings or your parents…And spouses are building something together, not trying to see who gets there first!

It’s hard to escape this idea, to break free. It’s everywhere around us and is a staple of so many reality TV shows – from the original “Survivor” to most of the contemporary cooking shows to all the American Idol-style talent shows. Competition reigns – and frequently at its nastiest.

Judaism, on the other hand, tells us that our accomplishments in relationship to someone else are completely irrelevant. The Almighty only looks at each one of us individually to determine if we are living up to our unique potential. He doesn’t compare our actions with anyone around us. We don’t know what their challenges are and they are not privy to our personal demons and struggles.

Whether someone else thinks we are trying hard enough or achieving enough doesn’t really matter (I would love to go back and tell my 4th grade teacher!). All that counts is my own motivation and drive and effort.

So yes it’s the time for lists. And it’s sometimes fun to read them. But we don’t want to give them more importance than they merit. We need to recognize that, ultimately, they are meaningless. “Best” is in the eyes of the individual – and his or her Creator.


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