In continuing our annual “Hakhel-Halftime” Superbowl tradition, we reached out to alumni and students, especially sports enthusiasts, to help formulate some relevant insight, creative inspiration and meaningful life messages to be gleaned for this year’s (2021) Superbowl LV (55) matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs (last year’s champions) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (highlighted by Tom Brady’s first time with a new team). Special thanks to the alumni (including Jamie A., Jeffrey B., Adam R. and others) and current students who have tipped us off to many of these ideas.
All of this is in the spirit of the great Baal Shem Tov teaching, that all which we see and hear could and should serve as meaningful life lessons in our service of G-d. This concept was emphasized and expanded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and is an ideal I love and live with and try to share with our students and friends, as many of you well know.
Before getting into Superbowl LV (55) for 2021, here are some of our Hakhel-Halftime posts from past years, much of it is probably relevant in any year as football is football: Collected Hakhel Halftime Football Insights or this post of what we posted about Superbowl 53, and shared students inspiration for Superbowl 49, or our 5 Halachot of Sports Fans, this piece on from Superbowl 2018 on Nick Fowles and Queen Esther, or this one on Optimum Football Inflation.
Now for some of what is unique and different this Superbowl LV (55) in 2021:
CORONA, OF COURSE
Yes, Covid has been a game-changer in so many ways in 2020, and the Superbowl is affected as well. The Stadium will have less fans present in-person, its smallest attendance ever, and a large percentage of those present will be already vaccinated health and front-line workers (itself a tribute to their dedication – true heroes – during this crisis). Not the usual fancy corporate crowd.
Some of the big name companies are doing less or none at all of their annual flashy and expensive Superbowl ads either due to the economic constraints of their own financial situation or in recognition of those struggling through these times of economic hardship and uncertainty. The famous Budweiser commercial will not air this year, instead funds will be reallocated to help towards vaccine awareness to help bars and restaurants reopen.
And hopefully, people will party wisely. Large, unchecked, no-restraints partying is very risky behavior and won’t help this country meet its goals of ending this pandemic sooner rather than later. Depending on where you live, local health guidelines, personal circumstances etc, — whatever it is, most Superbowl parties will be much smaller this year. Indeed, many will be watching alone or only with close family. But party size isn’t the only determinant of a good time, technology also helps keep people together, and hopefully people can find ways to celebrate this annual American ritual in safer, healthier, wiser ways. Let’s do this right.
Now for the Torah connection – this concept of so(m)ber restraint even in a time of great rejoicing is found in a lot of Jewish sources as well:
A classic well-known example is the breaking of the glass at a wedding Chuppah. Of course we rejoice with the bride and groom, that’s a huge mitzvah, and Jewish weddings are a lot fun and unbridled (pardon the pun) happiness, but still, in the midst and in the height of all that celebration we remember the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the national exile and diaspora, we remember the void of those who are no longer with us. That’s what the breaking of the glass is for.
The Talmud tells us that there are religious restraints on personal enjoyment and celebration (even if you personally can afford it) in times of regional/national famine and drought. And there’s a Jewish mindset of introspection and self-reflection required during times of calamity.
Maimonides writes that those who celebrate on the holidays with good food and drink but close their doors to the poor and the needy are not celebrating the holiday but the selfish joy of their own stomachs. We can’t celebrate without being attuned and connected with those in need, especially in a time when so many are suffering or struggling.
Yes, the party must go on, and it is good for America to continue onward, etc – but a more muted and thoughtful and giving Superbowl in a time like this would be keeping with these values.
BRADY PROVES HIMSELF
Not that he needs any proving, but this one season at Tampa Bay proved Tom Brady perhaps more than any other season with the Patriots. During Tom Brady’s long and vaunted tenure (2001-2019) with the New England Patriots, it might have been speculated that he was blessed with a perfect storm (coaching, team-mates, other variables) that enabled him to become one of the best players the NFL has ever seen. But with this move to Tampa Bay, a team that hasn’t been to the post-season since 2007and in one year propelling them to the Superbowl, shows that Tom Brady can do Tom Brady – Patriots or not.
Sometimes we thrive best in very supportive environments and circumstances, and it is only when those supports aren’t there for us in the same way that we can prove our same level of dedication, commitment, ability and achievement. Maybe it is like the difference between being in our parents home and away at college, maybe it can be the difference between growing surrounded by Jewish community and its amenities and then living Jewishly without all of those resources.
There’s a commandment for certain Temple offerings and rituals to use “living water”. The Mishna in Parah (8:9) says that “waters which deceive/disappoint – even once in 7 years – are unfit for this service”. Basically if a stream dries up under adverse weather conditions, even if it happens only once in seven years, that’s not considered living waters – even when it flows! Because its flowing is conditional, it is too dependent on outside factors, it doesn’t flow of its own strength.
Chassidus loves this Mishna quote, and applies it to human beings as well. If we’re only successful in optimum circumstances then our success isn’t true. It’s actually “disappointing” or “deceiving” waters. It’s when we can keep going and flowing even when circumstances are not in our favor, that’s when our success is true, proven, and not a disappointment. There are a bunch of other Torah sources we can go with on this point, but this is one for starters.
THE AGE ISSUE (OR NON-ISSUE)
There’s lots of talk of Brady being almost too old for the game. Guys are incredulous how Patrick Mahomes might have been in first grade when Tom Brady went to his first Superbowl in 2002. There’s a whole bunch of stats of how old Brady is as a QB (in football years) not to mention that his starting over anew with a totally new team and management. But hey, he’s back in the Superbowl for the 1oth time! Here’s a lesson against age-ism. Don’t think your prime years are behind you and it’s too late to do X or Y. And the same goes for Mahomes… you are never too young to pull off great things!
Aside for Brady himself, the Bucs coach Bruce Arians is the 2nd-oldest head coach in Super Bowl history. He didn’t coach in the NFL until he was 36, and wasn’t an NFL head coach until he was 60. Nowadays a lot of people struggle with mid-life career changes or late starts, so this message is important.
Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages and teachers of the Mishna, in fact of all Jewish history, started learning how to read at age 40. He went to Kindergarten with his son and they shared a tablet (not the modern kind) . See this post for a whole slew of tweets we wrote about Rabbi Akiva. We also did a Torah-Tuesday about his life, times and teachings. Indeed, he is an inspiration to late-bloomers everywhere and a prime example of “it is never too late”.
The Torah mentions that Moses was 80 when he went to speak to Pharaoh the first time. Why is that important? One answer may be this same message. Torah tells us later on that Moses was 120 when he passed away. This means that Moses was well past his mid-years (which would have been his 60’s) when he first started his career. He didn’t get his big job right out of college. The famous Moses we all know, the Ten Plagues, Splitting of the Sea, the Giving of the Torah, the 40 years in the desert leading our people… all that happened when he was older. I think the same about the Rebbe. He was pretty unknown when he assumed leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch in 1950, he was 48 years old. Most everything we know about and associate with the Rebbe, and so much of what he envisioned and set into motion happened after he was 48. In fact, his magnum opus of Shlichus (Chabad families and centers worldwide) didn’t really take off big time until the Rebbe was in his 70’s, even 80’s.
Some of you know the story of what happened when I (Mendel) turned 20 and prepared a birthday farbrengen, but that humbling story you’ll have to ask me about offline.
About the difference in age between the two quarterbacks: The Rebbe has a nice talk comparing and contrasting two types of verses. Sometimes the Torah will speak of the Jewish people as a first-born, the eldest, with seniority, and sometimes there are opposite verses which speak lovingly of the Jewish people as a youth, like the baby of the family. So which is it? The Rebbe explains that there’s an advantage in both extremes, and both are true of our relationship with G-d. The Rebbe would love to quote the verse from the Exodus, where Moses tells Pharaoh: “We will leave with our youth and with our elders!” Both together. Each brings something special to the collective experience.
STRONG POCKET-PASSER VS. DUAL-THREAT MOBILITY
You don’t need my commentary on this. So much has been said! Alumni have pointed this out to me, there are great writeups on this all over the internet. Brady is a pocket-passer extraordinaire, sharp, fast and precise, total control. Mahomes is more agile, improvisational, unpredictable, he works inside and out of the protected pocket, he can pass the ball or run with it, or a combination of both. According to my alumni sports sources, pocket-passers have always had the upper hand (pun right there) in high-pressure games like the Superbowl, but in recent years the more mobile, nimble, dual-threat style is starting to ascend more and more, especially for those players who have mastered the art of this, like Mahomes.
The founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, would travel around a lot, visiting towns and villages all over Eastern Europe. He didn’t stay in the pocket. But his successor, Rabbi Dovber, the Maggid of Mezritch, mostly stayed put in his town, teaching students who would later set up communities all over.
G-d says, “Make for Me a Mishkan (tabernacle or temple) and I will dwell among them.” There are two models for this dwelling place for G-d: Back in biblical times we had a central Mishkan or Beit HaMikdash from which light would emanate to the whole world. These were highly centralized places of worship, with intensely concentrated spiritual power. Then both Jerusalem Temples were destroyed and the synagogue concept sprouted up, anywhere, everywhere. Each synagogue is considered to be a miniature sanctuary. Furthermore, in some aspects, every home is considered to be little Mishkan, a dwelling space for G-d. Way, way out of the pocket.
And all this goes into the principled vs. flexible concept, too. We go into this idea last year when Patrick Mahomes was up (and won) against Jimmy G. Judaism does a lot of balancing between flexibility and principle. You could say Brady is the more principled QB, while Mahomes is more flexible. One excels in a certain idealized framework, one manages to make it work amazingly well in almost any framework.
THE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
Here’s a first for this Superbowl, it is the very first time a team (in this case the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) will play the Superbowl in their home stadium. There is a lot of buzz about the home-field advantage in all sports, but whatever its actual value, the fact that this is the first time this has ever happened in a Superbowl is good reason to try to learn a lesson from this.
The game is the game, the field is a standard regulation size, the plays are the same. Home field advantage is mostly a comfort thing. You are used to the weather. There’s no need to travelor away from your own turf. Having more supportive fans (is that the case in a Superbowl, too?) is a big deal. You know the feel of the place. You’re no stranger (visitor) this is your home, you belong.
So, yes, it is mostly psychological, but for all of football’s brute strength and force, extreme talent and skill, psychology still plays a big role. Players aren’t robots or machines. They are human beings who can be deeply affected by their perceptions of things. Coaches spend a lot of time building up their players, strengthening their resilience and mental fortitude to perform under extreme pressure.
There’s a beautiful story of the Rebbe with Mr. George Rohr (a philanthropist – he considers himself a Tzedakah investor – who has established and supported Chabad Houses all over the world, especially on campus, including our own Shabbos House Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center here at UAlbany) that you can view here starting at 8:10 about “Jews with No Background”. It’s a short watch, a couple of minutes or less, but quite worthwhile (there’s one line of Rebbe humor at the end, too). The goal is for everyone to feel that home-field advantage. No one left out, or left behind, or felt as an outsider. Each of us ought to feel at home, that regardless of their journey or circumstance or level of observance or achievement – they really belong. They have home-field advantage.
THAT’S IT FOR NOW…
but hope to add a little more soon!