Writings from the Rabbis

Rabbi2Rabbi: an email dialogue between Rabbi Adam Cutler and Rabbi Adam Scheier (January 2017)
February 17 2017

Rabbi2Rabbi

Episode: TWENTY-EIGHT - January 2017

Dear R’ Adam,

My congregation, like many others, hosts a Super Bowl viewing party. We use this major media event as an opportunity to create connection and energy amongst our members; it has become a well-attended
program.

The Chofetz Chaim once said that the innovations of his era taught profound life lessons: The telephone taught that our words can travel and have far-reaching impact; the telegraph taught that words have value and should be used prudently; and the train taught the importance of seizing opportunities, for even a moment’s delay can cause one to miss the train. If, then, one of the fundamental lessons of Judaism is that we can learn something from everything and everyone, what do we learn from the most-viewed media event of our times—the Super Bowl?

Rabbi Adam Scheier
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim
Westmount, QC 
(514) 937-9471
www.shaarhashomayim.org 


Dear R' Adam,

At my congregation, like many other Conservative shuls, Super Bowl Sunday is designed for World Wide Wrap, a day on which we encourage our members to come to shul for Shacharit and put on tfillin. We leverage the excitement of the day into a mitzvah opportunity.

The Super Bowl host city is chosen well before the two teams vying for the NFL championship are determined. Rarely does either team find itself playing in its home stadium. Tickets too are purchased before prospective attendees know the competitors. Since neither side has an overwhelming number of fans in attendance cheering them on, the Super Bowl is often one of the quietest games of the entire season.

We have certain mitzvot for which a huge public performance is considered desirable. Hakhel, the biblically mandated septennial gathering of all Jews for a public reading of the Torah, would have been an awesome event. It would have been experienced as a recreation of Sinai. Today, the chanting of Megillat Esther is regarded as especially beautiful when done amidst a large gathering. Yet, with Hakhel and Megillat Esther the potential for drawbacks—especially concerning the ability of attendees to hear—is significant.

The Super Bowl may remind us of the excitement surrounding large gatherings, but also the potential pitfalls. The NFL's end of season game, may ironically point rabbis toward the need for intimate  gatherings and the development of smaller communities.

How do you leverage the secular calendar for shul purposes?

Adam Cutler
Rabbi
Beth Tzedec Congregation
Toronto, ON
(416) 781-3514 ext. 219
www.beth-tzedec.org


Dear R’ Adam,

Your internalizing the grandeur of the Super Bowl to appreciate the quiet moments of life is a powerful lesson. I choose, as well, to learn from the sporting aspect of the Super Bowl.

The first lesson is that life’s major events are the culmination of preparation. A team plays in the Super Bowl only after thousands upon thousands of hours of scouting, recruiting, practicing, meeting, playing,
and studying. Similarly, the big moments in life—think of Abraham’s tests—are not judged on the result alone; they are considered in light of the preparedness we have to confront these moments.

The second lesson I learn is of the importance of details. There is beauty in sports when one considers how specific each action must be in order to succeed: the placement and strength of the foot on the ball
by the kicker; the toe-tap a receiver must do when there are only inches remaining inbounds on a 48 meter-wide football field; the timing required for the defence to begin their play after the ball is snapped. I believe that the power in life is found in the small moments, the seemingly-insignificant gestures. In synagogue life, I see power in the relationships developed by virtue of a conversation at morning minyan; in the delivering of a meals-on-wheels meal to a home-bound person; the visit to a sick person who feels removed from community life while hospitalized. These moments are not “Super Bowls” unto themselves; but together they comprise a powerful spiritual community. Perhaps this is an understanding of the teaching in Ethics of our Fathers (2:1), “Be careful with an ‘easy’ mitzvah…for you do not know the reward of mitzvot!”

Do you think there are lessons to be learned from the sporting or strategy aspect of the event? Or do you choose to separate this moment from religious significance?

Rabbi Adam Scheier
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim


Dear R' Adam,

I believe that as inhabitants in God's world we should be open to find inspiration and wisdom from both the sparrow and swallow who sing God's praises as well as the grunts of millionaire athletes. That's not to say that I think the Super Bowl has religious significance. 

I am intrigued by athletes who publically acknowledge God (often by crossing themselves) following an on field success. I do find it appropriate to recognize and thank God at all moments of joy and achievement, including those that provide no universal net benefit. Yet, we must distinguish between personal post-facto gratitude and pre-emptive prayer. While as a fan I desire the success of the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays (I’m non-partisan when it comes to the NFL), I do not pray to God that they win. For me, such a prayer trivializes what it means to pray. It also necessarily implies a desire for God to intervene in another team's loss.

Adam Cutler
Beth Tzedec Congregation