I’m not much of a football maven myself, but with the Superbowl played this year just over 2 hours drive from here, I had to think of some meaningful message or connection. So on Friday afternoon, I posted this to Facebook: who knows their football? FB me, I have a question about Sunday’s game that I want to use for tonight’s message at Shabbos Dinner. Within 20 minutes I had over 15 knowledgeable responses with lively detailed input and some really good material to work with. Culled from these quick conversations I’d like to share two key points.

A) QB Peyton Manning and CB Richard Sherman

These two men are the most talked about players leading up to the big game, playing different positions, and have very different personal stories.

Peyton has been to Superbowls before, both he and his family have a long and respected professional football history, a storied veteran – playing in the NFL since 1998. He was a first-draft pick, four-time MVP, was always considered an elite player and has many career wins. Much was expected of him, and he lived up to those expectations. He is beloved, well-liked and admired, and a highly marketable athlete.

Richard Sherman had a different personal journey to get to the Superbowl. Relative to Peyton, he is a newcomer, only in the NFL since 2011. In many ways he is underestimated and misunderstood. He was chosen late in the draft, a fifth round pick. Even his latest post-game outburst that catapulted him into pre-SuperBowl fame may be misunderstood (or maybe not – I’m not defending his outburst but not heavily criticizing it either). His angry and loud style may belie the fact that he was Salutatorian of his High School, and graduated as a scholar-athlete from Stanford. He is a hard-hitting, aggressive and dynamic football player, part of an amazing defensive team.

These two players may represent two ways we can serve G-d, grow spiritually and be part of a Jewish community. Some may follow the expected and respected route, others may have to push their way in. Some arrive at the game to defend a title at the climax of a long and storied career, others have to prove their way, despite the odds. Some do it with class and finesse, others may be a little more noisy and boisterous. Some may do their thing with the approval and admiration of others, while others may have to fight their way up, going against the grain.

The analogy is far from perfect, and of course, won’t fit everyone, and is no endorsement or criticism of either of these football players or their respective behaviors. And it’s not like Peyton always had it easy. He came back to play from significant injury, persisted over the years, and built the Colts into an amazing franchise. But there’s a lesson to be learned from everything.

Think of the struggle of the path of a Baal-Teshuvah. Maybe like a 5th round pick, whose talents and abilities weren’t recognized at first, a latecomer to the game vs. the old veterans who have been there from birth. Maybe not much support from others, sometimes friends and family aren’t behind these major life-changes. There’s much more of a need and urge to prove yourself both to yourself and maybe also to others. There’s less predictability and more surprises, indeed the whole personal oydessy changes any expectations. Those who have to push their way in, going against the grain, often have a higher degree of passion and determination.

B) Bronco’s Offense vs. Seahawks Defense

Again, I am not an expert on these matters, but quite a number of football enthusiasts have confirmed for me that this Superbowl in 2014 is one of the best Superbowl contrasts of a defensive team vs. an offensive team. I don’t think this superbowl is a proving point for offense vs. defense, but it certainly highlights the contrast.

Jewishly – this is an important question. Judaism is filled with both offensive and defensive Mitzvot. Take Shabbat for example. Kiddush, Prayer and Shabbat meals and enjoyment are examples of offensive (well, not offensive in that sense..) Mitzvot; while abstaining from weekday activities and certain forms of prohibited work would be considered defensive Mitzvot.

Some Jews put much more emphasis on offense, but not put as much into their defense. They do a lot of good, but don’t defend and protect their Judaism. Others are very protective and defensive, but aren’t as forward, active and positive. The Rebbe addresses this in a 1941 note (part of the “Reshimos” notebooks found in his desk after his 1994 passing) using the law of Kosher fish. A Kosher fish must have fins and scales. Fins propel a fish forward – they help with navigation and movement, while scales are a form of armor to defend and protect the fish. To be Kosher, says the Rebbe, we need to have both.

This need for both Jewish offense and defense is especially critical for those on the front-line of Jewish survival, like on a college campus. Both approaches are incredibly important to incorporate into our lives and perspectives, each person according to their level and circumstance.


here’s an old video we posted on YouTube “Tefillin and Touchdowns” for a Superbowl Sunday Minyan Bagel Brunch past. One more Tefillin thought for today: Proper timing and placement of your boxes matters. Come to Sunday Minyan Bagel Brunch to Shabbos House to get your Tefillin boxes in place, followed by a Bagel Brunch and on Superbowl Sunday we usually have some student sports commentary and predictions.