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What Jews can learn from the Super Bowl

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Rabbi Adam Cutler

Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto

Rabbi Adam Scheier

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, Montreal


Rabbi Scheier: 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 among our members, and it has become a well-attended program.

The Chafetz 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 Cutler: At my congregation, like many other Conservative shuls, Super Bowl Sunday is designated as World Wide Wrap 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.

Judaism has 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. Today, the chanting of Megillat Esther is regarded as especially beautiful when done amid a large gathering. Yet, with Hakhel and Megillat Esther the potential for drawbacks – especially concerning the ability of attendees to hear – is significant.

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The Super Bowl may remind us of the excitement surrounding large gatherings, but also the potential pitfalls. Ironically, it may point rabbis toward the need for intimate  gatherings and the development of smaller communities.

Rabbi Scheier: The way you internalize 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 reaches the Super Bowl only after thousands of hours of scouting, recruiting, practising, 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 is 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 along the sidelines; the timing required for the defence to begin its play after the ball is snapped.

I believe 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, the delivering of a meal to a home-bound person, or 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, “Be careful with an ‘easy’ mitzvah… for you do not know the reward of mitzvot!”

Rabbi Cutler: 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. However, I am intrigued by athletes who publicly acknowledge God following 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 Toronto’s 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