Today New York City hosts its annual marathon.

I saw an interesting article by Juliet Macur in the Sports Section of the October 23 edition of The New York Times. The article – "Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?" – addressed the "straggler" issue at the NYC Marathon, those who finish long after the real marathoners have finished, eaten and showered. "It's a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours," said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women's cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. "It used to be that running a marathon was worth something—there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it's, 'How low is the bar?'"

Real marathoners seem to think the bar should be set at a 6-hour marathon (that's an average of 4.4 MPH for 26 miles). The "Plodders" don't appreciate the elitism of the marathoners. They feel that the world is better off with people who can run a marathon at whatever pace and the more entrants into the field, the better for the local economy. A leader of the Plodder movement commented: "The complainers are just a bunch of ornery, grumpy people who want the marathon all to themselves and don't want the slower runners. But too bad. The sport is fueled and funded by people like me."

The Berlin Marathon has a cut-off time of 6:15. Those that are still on the course are literally asked to leave the course and go to their hotels.

This article was brought to my attention by a friend of mine this past Sunday as we were leisurely rounding our third lap in the highly competitive Friendship Circle one mile walk...

The Times article couldn't have been better "timed." We read it on the day before our Patriarch Abraham was introduced in the public Torah readings; Abraham, the consummate man of kindness.

And the article reminded me of part of the eulogy that Rabbi Nissan Alpert of blessed memory delivered at the funeral of his beloved Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory – renowned 20th century halachic authority, universally known as "Reb Moshe" – in March of 1986.

Often rabbis are asked for approbations or letters of recommendation. It could be for a book, a letter advocating a certain cause, etc. Many rabbis will not sign such a letter until they have thoroughly investigated the person requesting help, the content of the book or the worthiness of the cause. Reb Moshe, however, was known to sign the letters very often without asking too many questions. Rabbi Alpert addressed this in the eulogy:

A most distinguished person once asked me why Reb Moshe consents to write letters of support for every organization and individual who approaches him. "Doesn't he realize that he is thus cheapening himself?" the man inquired. "At least," the fellow continued, "he should investigate to determine if their stories and needs are totally true."

In fact, Reb Moshe was well aware of the little regard people accorded his letters. He once asked a prospective recipient of an endorsement, "Honestly, how can my letter help you? I've written thousands of similar ones!"

I responded that we find the terms chesed (kindness) and emet (truth) frequently juxtaposed in the Torah, yet chesed is always written first. If a man begins with kindness, tempering it with truth, good is likely to come of it. However, if he begins with truth, he will never come to kindness—and who knows how true his "truth" will be?

This was clearly a guiding principle for Reb Moshe. Whenever someone was in need, he would do whatever possible to help, before weighing any other considerations... Sometimes this even entailed overlooking things not in accord with his perspective; but it would not deter him.—from Hanoch Teller's Sunset pp.93

I think Reb Moshe's legacy helps us understand the debate between the marathoners and the plodders. Emet? Marathons should be for serious athletes who can compete and qualify. Chesed? Why limit it to the elite?

I say that the serious joggers should be thrilled and flattered that the more amateur and novice runner joins them. What does it matter to them what speed they finish? That's not the trait of Abraham.