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Moses to Messi

Since at least the 9th Century, the Festival of Weeks (known in the Hebrew Bible as Shavuot and in the New Testament as Pentecost) has been described in Jewish liturgy as the "Time our Torah was Given." The reference is to Moses's acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai. According to the opening Mishna of Pirkei Avot, this act set in motion a chain of tradition, in which the Torah was passed from generation to generation, right up to the present day. The image of Moses passing the Torah to Joshua and Joshua passing it to the Elders has always made me think of a football commentary. I kind of want the Mishna to end, "and the men of the Great Assembly pass it to Messi... and Messi scores!!!" This weird association of mine might be just that: a weird association of mine. On the other hand, like all associations and metaphors, it might suggest a different way of looking at things. How is the passage of tradition from one generation to the next like a game of football? And how is it unlike a game of football? What might we gain and lose by conceiving of cultural transmission in terms of pass completion rates, tactics of defense and counterattack, and so on? For example, does the ball remain the same from pass to pass? And when is it best to leave the ball with the opposition and wait? In this essay on metaphors of identity, I explore similar questions. Watch the attached clip and let your imaginations run wild with other free associations! (Who knows, perhaps we have the makings here of a more playful and less corrupt Fédération Internationale de Football Association?)

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