I recently took part in a competition for a table-top game called X-Wing Miniatures. It’s a Star Wars themed game that involves spaceships from the Star Wars films. In this National competition with the top prize of a flight to America, there were 60 people playing. I brought a completely unique squad that had never been flown before and came joint 27th. So no flight to America although I did win a playmat signed by one of the game designers. I left the competition feeling fairly happy – I had won three games and lost three games in my first ever tournament where I had tried something risky, made a couple of mistakes and just wasn’t lucky with the dice.
As the days passed, I started to realise that I could have done better (although I probably wouldn’t have reached the lofty heights of the very impressive 7th place achieved by David Sleet, BRS’s Community IT Director). The joy of coming in the top half of the table started to give way to frustration of not doing better. Then I read an online post by someone who said that he was pleased to have come 51st because he’d never played the game against other people before! If he was happy with his 51st place, what was my problem with 27th? What finally helped resettle my mind was putting it into a larger context. Yes, of course in the grand scheme of things, the ability to move spaceships around a table effectively is utterly meaningless. But I was 27th in the whole of the UK – that’s 27th out of around 62,470,000 people who could conceivably play X-Wing Miniatures if they wanted. Being a winner is really a matter of perspective, it seems.
So what’s the Jewish perspective on competition? Well, the Rabbis of the Talmud weren’t into competition because they felt it took away from a life completely dedicated to Torah study, so they don’t have too much to say on the matter. Perhaps we can say that Jewish tradition doesn’t focus on winning and losing but, rather, on the encounter with God which is something that by definition isn’t competitive. I think that sometimes we need to compete for the excitement, so long as we remember that in the eyes of God we’re all winners, albeit with varying degrees of closeness of relationship to God. And maybe next time I compete I’ll say a little prayer… not to act as some kind of magical enchantment of good fortune but, rather, to remind me before I compete on what’s important in life and why I’m already a winner.