Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fumbling the Ball in the Red Zone - A Chanuka Parable

I have never been much of an athlete. I was always chosen in last and, even then, only if I was the one who brought the ball. It took me longer than most of my friends to develop a taste for sports and to understand what's going on. I will be forever grateful to one of my former classmates who was one of the first to explain to me the finer points of American football. This classmate was also the "first string" quarterback for the schoolyard touch football we played at recess.

Her name is Rebecca. (She now lives in Efrat with her husband and six kids. I don't think she plays football any more but she does run marathons.)

From these humble beginnings, my taste for American football matured until I came to respect the sport. Subsequently, I became a diehard Lakewoodist and I am currently a neo-chareidi mussarist pushing ameilus b'Torah. What's more, I have been removed from the American scene for over 12 years. And besides, the team I used to root for (the Natwich Nutcrackers) haven't won a Super Bowl in over twenty years. And despite all that, I still respect the sport. Or maybe, it's because of all that.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think that any religious Jew should ever waste 3 hours of his life watching a football game. It's not just bittul zman. In recent years, the high quality field level cameras give us close up views of what goes on not only on the field during plays but also revealing glimpses of what goes on on the sidelines between plays. Still and all, there are a few valuable things we can learn from the philosophies of the sport.

For example, I learned to appreciate the precision teamwork that is necessary to execute a successful play. The players of each team are specialists in their roles. Be it the quarterback, the running backs, linemen, receivers, tight ends, linebackers, or safeties. The entire roster is about 45 people but only 11 can participate in any play. For every play, the coaches determine what needs to be done and picks out which players are the specialists for the particular mission of the play. Each player has a distinct assignment and the success of the play depends on how he carries it out. No matter how insignificant a position may seem to be, nothing can be neglected. No matter how talented are the quarterback, the running back or the receiver, a single well placed block or a single missed block can spell the difference between winning or losing. Every player's moves count!

I always thought that a well executed play looks like a perfectly choreographed ballet (I taught Rebecca about ballet!- just kidding!)

Another pearl of wisdom is a remark I heard an analyst say in the name of Jerry Glanville (anybody remember him?) who coached the Houston Oilers during one of their few winning seasons when they barely made the playoffs:

Do you know what NFL stands for? Not For Long!!

I have never forgotten this witticism because it applies to so much more than professional sports.

But I really want to discuss the main object of the game. The object of the game is to conquer the playing field by advancing the team to the goal line. If the team conquers the entire field, they are awarded a touchdown and earn 6 points. And how does a team advance?

By moving the ball.

In other words, the team is where the ball is. And this brings me to my main point. In order to score any points, your team has got to have the ball. Only the team with the ball can score points! And only the team that can score the most points can win the game.

So in American football - as in many other sports - the most important rule for any team is:

Hang on to the ball! Whatever you do, don't lose possession of the ball!

We all know that there is one thing in football that will guaranteee any team, no matter how talented it's players, many tallies in the losing column: turnovers.

A turnover is when the team that controls the ball mishandles it so that they wind up losing the ball and it winds up in the hands of the opposing team. Remember, only the team that is controlling the ball scores points.

Because of this, you will notice something that happens in football. If my team is controlling the ball, I have ten players who will have no trouble advancing to the enemy's goal line un-opposed. That's right, nobody from the other team will stop them. Or will even try to stop them. Unfortunately, the ten players in question will be the ten players who do not happen to be the one holding the ball. For the one fellow who currently has the ball, life is different. The entire opposing team will do everything in their power to stop him. First order of business is to make sure that this one fellow doesn't get the opportuinity to advance the ball.

And, if they can, they are going to try to do something else. They are going to try to cause him to "cough up" the football. To lose control.

To fumble!!

When the player is a klutz and coughs up the ball on his own, we call this a fumble. But when the other team helps expedite the process, we call this stripping the ball or a forced fumble.

Now, even though a vigilant defensive player will always look for an opportunity to force a fumble, the defensive players become all the more vigilant when the controlling team gets near their goal line. When a team is within 20 yards of the opponent's goal line we say they are in the red zone. They are very close to scoring. When this happens, the defending team gets a bit tougher. And they look harder for a chance to force a fumble. Thus the team trying to score has to be ever more watchful about hanging on to the football. Because they must score to win. And the most devastating thing that can happen is if they fumble the ball in the red zone.

Now, what's the significance of all this?

The significance is that this is the story of the Jewish people. Or better yet, this is the history of the Jewish people.

You see, we are playing one big game. A game of football. We must conquer a field. But it is not a field of distance. It is not a field of 100 yards. It is a field of time. It is a field of 6000 years. We must advance through this field of time and reach the goal line. If we don't, we will not win the game.

And, in order to do it. We must maintain control of the ball! The Torah is the ball. And the only way to win is if we are still holding on to it when we reach the goal line. the only way to win the game is:

Hang on to the ball! Whatever you do, don't lose possession of the ball!

The Greeks were great athletes. They knew the rules of football. They knew that as long as we don't cough up the football we will eventually reach the goal line and score. So they tried their hardest to make us "fumble the football". To make us lose control of the "ball".

להשכיחם תורתיך ולהעבירם מחקי רצוניך.

They tried to outlaw Rosh Chodesh - our calendar, Shabbos - our testimony that HKBH created the world, bris milah - our visible sign of identity, family purity - the Waters of Eden and to write on the horn of the ox that "we have no portion in the G-d of Israel". And the line had us as 30 point underdogs.

But we won that game because we were the receiving team and we never gave up possession of the football. Even the Lions can beat the Vikings if they can only keep the ball out of the hands of Brett Favre (no small feat).

But that was just one game. It wasn't the Super Bowl and the season isn't over. The "Greeks" came again and again just under a new coach and wearing a different color jersey each time. No they are not outplaying us but they are all trying for the same tactic - forcing us to fumble the football.

Until recently it wasn't all that difficult to hang on to the football. Because we weren't in the red zone.

But we are now.

And so the "Greeks" are trying harder and harder to make us cough up the ball. And it's getting harder and harder to hang on to it.


Because just like in American football, we must execute each "play" with precision teamwork. Each person must carry out his assignment flawlessly. Whether it is a spotlight role like passing or carrying the ball, or whether it is a supportive role like throwing blocks. Every person's assignment is essential to successfully completing a play.

But it looks like many players are neglecting their assignments. They think that their job is to get to the goal line. And they say that it is so easy. Nobody seems to be stopping them.

They have forgotten that they are not the player that is carrying the ball.

From the whole "team" of Klal Yisroel barely one out of 11 is still carrying the ball (actually, less). These are the One-Aboveniks, the Im-Bechukosai-Telechuniks who are Ameilim b'Torah. Only they have the ball. And 11 out of 11 of the "opponents" are ganging up on them trying to stop them and trying to strip the ball. And they are trying very hard.

Because we are in the red zone.

And those who are supposed to be blocking for them are not carrying out their assignments.

So when we see people in the chareidi world stumbling and fumbling and losing control of the football it is because, since they are the only ones carrying the ball, all of the forces of the opposing team focus on them as the gemara says in Sukka 52a:

ת"ר ואת הצפוני ארחיק מעליכם זה יצה"ר שצפון ועומד בלבו של אדם והדחתיו אל ארץ ציה ושממה למקום שאין בני אדם מצויין להתגרות בהן את פניו אל הים הקדמוני שנתן עיניו במקדש ראשון והחריבו והרג תלמידי חכמים שבו וסופו אל הים האחרון שנתן עיניו במקדש שני והחריבו והרג תלמידי חכמים שבו ועלה באשו ותעל צחנתו שמניח אומות העולם ומתגרה בשונאיהם של ישראל כי הגדיל לעשות אמר אביי ובתלמידי חכמים יותר מכולם

For those who don't read fine print, this passage is saying that the Yetzer Harah forsakes all of the nations of the world and only starts up with the Jews. Then comes the Amora Abayeh and he adds: And to the Talmidei Chachamim - those who study Torah - he (the Yetzer Harah) incites more than to any other Jews!

And those Seven-Belowniks who think they are reaching the goal line unimpeded do not realize that the opposing forces do not bother them. They are not carrying the ball. They will not score any points. And instead of executing a successful play, they are botching their assignments.

It is those who carry the ball who must reach the goal line in order to win the game and everybody else on the team has to block the opponents and enable the ball carrier to advance.

If they do, they can wear the same Super Bowl ring as the ones who advance the football. If they don't, they will be as famous as Jerry Glanville.


Anonymous said...

Wow. No wonder you only write like one post a week. It probably takes you a whole week to come up with that.

I like what you have to say. You seem much more in sync with reality that the other blogs on here. I wish you would write more often.

Anonymous said...

Hey... Look who hit the big time. Saw your book in the front of the shul tonight. Good luck.

Looks interesting, but I cant drop 50 shekel for it. Sorry.

Yechezkel said...

Contact me directly. You may qualify for my EZ-Credit Layaway plan!

Anonymous said...

EZ layaway plan?

Yechezkel said...

Simply put, you put the NIS 50 in the pushka, take the book home and lay it away on a shelf until you sell it in a moving sale.

Seriously, I think it's the best investment for 50 sheks you could ever make. Pays for itself.

Anonymous said...

I dont doubt that its a good read and will be quite interesting.

However, I have a few sefarim I have on my list ahead of this - Rav Feldmans new english book and of course Orchos Shabbos 2 and 3.

And dont forget all the sefarim on the various masechtos I am learning in kollel at the present time