For our Hakhel Halftime project, we like to come up with meaningful Jewish Superbowl/Football connections and insights that people can share at their Superbowl parties.
We already have a bunch of ideas and insights from past years, see this whole set of Hakhel Halftime insights from a few years past and we also have posts about football inflation, and the 5 “Halachot” of sports fans, a piece on Nick Foles and Queen Esther , some thoughts on Superbowl XLVIII (48), and here’s what students shared at Shabbat Lunch before Superbowl 53, and there’s some more stuff online — but we like to come up with new ones relevant to this year’s matchup.
Of course, there’s the obvious: Robert Kraft is Jewish and is known for his support of Israel. Rams (the animal) play a big role in the Binding of Isaac at Mr Moriah (later the Temple Mount), and Shofar (ram’s horns) are the key Mitzvah on Rosh Hashanah and were sounded at Mount Sinai.
GET BACK COACH
Alumnus Jeff B. alerted me to this. See this article at The Ringer for more about it.
Basically, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has this solid stoic look during games, he shows little emotion and doesn’t move around much. But the Rams’ coach Sean McVay is dynamic and animated, and he rushes and jumps and prances about. So much so, that there’s serious concern he’d actually cross the line onto the field, which would setback their team. A solution was found: The Get Back Coach. The Rams’ conditioning coach plays this role during games, getting right behind McVay, following him around, and should McVay in his heated passion get too close to the line, the get back coach would do just that – pull him back to where he belongs.
You don’t have to coach the Rams in a Superbowl to have this problem. We all suffer in varying degrees from this issue, and we could all use an (internal) get back coach. It happens to the best of us. We can get passionate or heated, sometimes temptation gets the better of us, we cross lines we shouldn’t cross. We get drawn into something, get excited (or drunk), lose our good sense and inhibition and do something stupid. It’s not good for the team! We have to muster the self-control, or enlist others to help us keep within the line, we need to be where we belong.
THE AGE GAP
Everyone is talking about this, because its one of the most striking differences between the Patriots and the Rams. Bill Belichick (66) is double the age of Sean McVay (33), and it’s not just the coaches, but the QB’s are also veteran Tom Brady (41, who has been to the most Superbowls, has a long record) vs. rookie Jared Goff (who is only 24 years old!). Even team-wise, the Patriots are a storied Boston franchise, while Rams are an old-new team, coming back to LA after years in St Louis. This year’s Superbowl seems to be a matchup of youth vs. experience.
In biblical verses that express G-d’s love and attachment to the Jewish people, you find a similar contrast. Sometimes the verse calls Israel, “my firstborn son” (think Tom Brady) and sometimes it says “for Israel is young and I love him!” (more like Jared Goff). The Rebbe speaks about this contrast and blend, oftne quoting what Moses told Pharaoh that the Jews would leave Egypt, “with our youth and with our elders” because Judaism prizes and values both youth and experience, innocence and maturity, passion and practicality, eagerness and fortitude.
This is an important blend for college kids to master. You want to combine the best of youthful maturity.
THE MISSED CALL
It’s spilt milk now, but the New Orleans Saints are still smarting from their devastating loss to the Rams, and they are mighty upset that a referee’s missed call may have cost them that crucial game. NFL seems to have owned up to the error (too late) but says that referees are human and that’s part of the game (for now at least). This isn’t exactly a Superbowl story, but it is a story that leads to this Superbowl game, and this game is being played in its shadow.
The debate over this is a story for a different time or better left to sports mavens, but there are two takeaway points here from the standpoint of Jewish texts:
a) The Talmud says that if the high court in the Jerusalem Temple established a “new moon” i.e. a new Hebrew month based on moon birth sightings, but turned out to be mistaken – the calendar remains established as is for that month. This remains true, even if the Superbowl of Jewish holidays, the date for the Passover Seder falls within that month. Similarly, you find a Talmud story (thanks to alumnus Jamie A. for this reference) where the law is decided not by a heavenly voice but by the majority of human judges, because Torah was given to be lived on earth. You hear echoes of NFL Commissioner saying that referees are human. Message for us? We are fallible, we have shortcomings, we’re far from perfect – but we are entrusted and we are trusted to do what needs to get done in good faith.
b) The whole debate isn’t over a bad call but a missed call. They should have said something and they didn’t. The Talmud speaks of “one who had an opportunity to protest but did not” as being as culpable as if they had done it themselves. This is an important lesson about not being silent when we should speak up, or being passive and inactive when we should have been doing something. It’s a knock on the theory that sitting it out is better. See something? Say Something! Don’t be passive, don’t be indifferent.
The Patriots and Rams have been to the Superbowl together before, back in 2002 for XXXVI in New Orleans. The Rams were the favorite back then, and it was Brady’s first (of many) Superbowls. The Patriots pulled an upset then and here they are again much later on (at the end?) in Brady’s career, many Superbowls later. Jared Goff may be too young to remember that Superbowl, but both QB’s and their teams are reliving that old history at the same time as they are creating a new destiny.
This is true of all of us, every day of our lives. We are fighting old battles, revisiting old issues we have seen once or twice before. But each time is a new story, a new matchup, we create new destiny each time we step into the fray. Jews of 2019 are living the lives of our ancestors as we live our own lives. In Judaism: G-d, and in some sense the Jewish people, have past, present and future all rolled into one.
IS THIS THE END FOR BRADY
Many of our students are Jets fans, and they sure hope this is his last game. They believe that if Brady and the Patriots win this Superbowl, he’ll call it a day and retire which might give the Jets some breathing room going forward. It’s a strange way to root for a Pats win, but sports have some funny logic like that.
It may sound morbid, but think of this through the lens of a Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) quote: “Repent one day before you die.” The Talmud asks, how would we know which die we die? Ah, that means we should live all our lives, every day as if it were our last one. To paraphrase for Brady, who knows if this will be his last game/Superbowl or not? But he’ll sure play it as if it was. Same can be true for all of us. Often we’re caught thinking that one day we’ll do this or that (when we are older, when we have a family, when we settle down, when we…) but how about thinking “that day” is right now?