Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Of Gridirons and Goalposts


Operation Inspiration

If there’s one thing my loyal readers have learned about me, it’s that my topics may vary wildly from week to week. When something is introduced into my consciousness, I ask myself why, and then, after some careful reflection, or maybe just some quick thinking, depending on the deadline, I share it with you.

Today I’d like to discuss a topic that many of you may be unfamiliar with, while others may be more knowledgeable than I by a mile. It’s football that I speak of. Yes, with the Super Bowl behind us, the football season has come to an end. Of course, for many people, particularly fans of the NY Jets, the season ended long ago. 

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Rabbi Yisroel Reisman of Brooklyn shared that a fellow once asked him if it was OK to daven for his favorite sports team. “You mean, the Yankees,” suggested Rabbi Reisman. “Yes!” exclaimed the passionate fellow. “I daven for them all the time,” said Rabbi R. “That their post-season should end as quickly as possible so people won’t be busy with them.” ?

Well, though the season is over, I did hear about the Super Bowl. In fact, I followed the scores occasionally throughout the game. As the game progressed, it was clear that the team that was trailing was falling further and further behind and had little chance of making a comeback to win the game.

The field a football game is played on is called a gridiron because the parallel lines bear a resemblance to a grill, and boy, were these guys’ gooses cooked! They were being smoked by the leading team and they did not look like they had a chance of turning it around. And yet, they kept running towards the goalposts at either end, despite every reversal of fortune. I wondered what motivated them to keep going? 

Well, I guess, for one thing, they are being paid to do so. If your job requires you to play a game, then you play even if you’re going to lose. There’s a lesson there for us in that of course, that we are here on earth to fulfill a mission, and as long as we’re alive, Hashem is paying us (in breathing and heartbeats) to keep going.

Then I thought about the fact that they know people are looking at them and if they are sore losers who storm off the field when things look rough, then people will lose respect for them. Therefore, when they keep going, it is aided by their egos, and that desire to be looked at positively gives them the drive to at least act like they haven’t given up. Similarly, we, too, know that people are looking at us and judging Hashem by our behavior, so we should be inclined to keep going lest people get the wrong idea about Hashem, when it’s we who are giving up.

Then I came to my final point – unlike the losing team – if you know what I mean. There’s a play in football which I cannot name. It references a non-Jewish prayer, and it’s when a quarterback (the guy throwing the football) throws a very long pass towards the goal line with a proverbial prayer on his lips that someone catch it and they score a touchdown.

It is often utilized at the final moments of the game, when the team has their final chance for victory, or at least for tying the game and extending the playing time. When the play works, everyone cheers like crazy and I’m sure many people, players and spectators alike, do offer a prayer of thanks to whatever G-d they believe in. 

Now, in the final minutes of the Super Bowl this year, there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to come back with even multiple plays like that, but in life, we often have moments where we take a leap of faith and trust Hashem to come through. When He does, we’re astounded by our good fortune, but we needn’t be. You see that’s how Hashem works. The more we trust in Him the more He comes through for us. He doesn’t play games, those are just the rules. But this wasn’t my final point.

You see, when that long pass fails, or when there’s no more chance to score, like when the leading team takes possession of the ball with 23 seconds left and they can “kill the clock” by wasting the final seconds so the other team can’t use them, that’s when everyone starts leaving the field. But not us. 

You see, as Jews, we have the ability to turn things around until the final second ticks off of the clock. As the famous New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra said with his typical unique wisdom, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” People laugh at that line because it’s redundant and apparently meaningless, but as I thought about it, it’s wiser than we realize.

A person may spend his entire life chasing the wrong things and making bad calls, but if in his final moments he takes that leap of faith and throws himself on the mercy of Hashem, doing Teshuva and regretting his mistakes, those sins will transform into Mitzvos. That man will be able to put the necessary score on the board and end up a winner.

That’s why we don’t give up even when the odds are against us, because in the final analysis, we’re holding the only playbook that matters.  


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