I was able to go hear Rav Dovid Cohen at Lander College. I am not going to address what he spoke about. However, I will mention what he did. Rabbi Cohen walks with a cane. There was a podium the other speakers had used. They had prepared a chair and table for Rav Cohen to sit while he was speaking. Although it was clearly difficult for the Rav to speak while standing up by the podium, he decided to do so because the podium would block the view of some of the people present. He was speaking in the Beis Medrash. There were a few hundred seats. Maybe a few dozen people would have had their view impaired if he sat down. Those on the side could have stood up or moved their chairs to other areas if they wanted to see him. Yet he decided to stand for his shiur, which lasted an hour, and included him taking questions. It was clearly hard for Rav Cohen, since he was frequently leaning on the podium. This is a clear example of a person who is a gadol not only in knowledge but also in midos. I wonder how many of us in the same position would have done the same as he did. We may not have the ability to reach his level in knowledge, but we can try to emulate his conduct when considering others.
Now to my main topic. There are some people who spend a lot of time watching sports on TV. I know that it is generally a waste of time. However, my weakness is that on occasion, I watch part of some hockey games. On Sunday, during the first round of the playoffs in the National Hockey League, two unusual events occured. The Boston Bruins, who during the regular season had the most victories and points in NHL history, lost a playoff series to the Florida Panthers, four games to three. What made it more amazing is that Boston had been up three games to one with games five and seven at home and were up one goal in game seven with a minute left to play in the third period and lost in overtime. The same night, last year’s Stanley Cup champion, the Colorado Avalanche, lost game seven at home to the Seattle Kraken, who are in their second year of existence. The Kraken were the first expansion team to beat the prior year’s Stanley Cup champion.
There are those who look at these results and conclude that the regular season means nothing. I disagree. What it shows is that even trained athletes can succumb to pressure. The Bruins were expected to win this first-round series easily, and even win the Stanley Cup. With higher expectations, there is higher pressure to succeed. The Panthers had just gotten into the playoffs. Few people had given them any chance to win. Thus, they were relaxed. If they lost, no big deal, since it was expected. If they win, it would be historic. The same scenario applied to the Avalanche and the Kraken. Last year there were low expectations for the Rangers, and they went to the conference finals. This year, the bar was raised, and they made trades for a future hall of famer and another skilled player. Yet they ended up losing in the first round to the New Jersey Devils, who have a rookie goalie.
The pressure of elevated expectations is not limited to sports figures. There are many examples of people who came from good families and had the chances and ability to succeed, yet went off the way. They could not handle the pressure and the high expectations. On the flip side, there are individuals who came from dysfunctional families or were considered to be lazy and were bad students who succeeded. Few people thought they had a chance. There was no pressure on them. They were able to reach their potential.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had not won a playoff series since 2004, and a Stanley Cup since 1967. Last year they blew a 3-2 game lead to Tampa Bay and lost in seven games. Game seven was at home. They had the chance this time to redeem themselves. They were again ahead three games to two and were playing game six in Tampa Bay, where they had lost game six the prior year. Would the Leafs choke again? This time they won. As a Rangers fan, I remember the pressure the teams in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s had to win the cup. The Rangers had not won the Stanley Cup since the 1939-1940 season. Meanwhile, the Islanders, who started in 1972, had won the Stanley Cup four straight years from 1979 to 1983. Then in 1994, the Rangers finally won it.
There is hope for those who have to deal with pressure.