Authored by Rabbi Mark Wildes, with contributions by Jessica Hendricks Yee of The Brave Collection and Michelle Soffen of MJE
Years ago I heard the following story from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel. It will require a bit of your imagination:
An Olympia airline plane lands in Athens, Greece. An old man steps off the plane. He is none other than Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, now a very old man, having been away from his home for hundreds of years. He steps off the plane and a young Greek porter at the terminal runs up to him to offer some help. “May I take your bag?” asks the porter. The old Socrates looks at the young man confused. “What language are you speaking?” “Greek,” replied the young man. “But why are you not speaking our classical Greek?” asks Socrates. “This is how we speak Greek today” replied the porter, “I studied a little classic Greek in university, but no one speaks it anymore”. The old man leaves the airport to visit his homeland and to his dismay sees nothing familiar. He looks for the usual Greek idols which used to line the streets of Athens but instead he sees a Greek Orthodox Church, a completely different religion. He hears people talking but no one speaking his classic Greek language. He has nothing in common with these people, just geography.
For many years, my wife and I would spend time in Boyton Beach, Florida where my in-laws used to live. They lived in a lovely community populated overwhelmingly by Jewish retirees from Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey. It’s a whole world of shuffleboard, mahjong games and early bird specials and over the years I got to know a good number of the older people who live there…
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You’re glued to the screen, surrounded by spicy hot wings and shouting friends. Maybe you have money on the game, maybe you don’t.
“Please, get it. Please God, let them just get it.”
Without even realizing it, you find yourself praying. You are praying to the Almighty… for a play to go your way…for your team to win…for the other team to lose.
But does God care? Does God not have bigger, more important things to worry about? Don’t we?
These questions come up this time every year, leading up to the glorious American tradition of Super Bowl Sunday. We wonder if God is concerned with something so relatively trivial, not to mention whether it’s appropriate, even in a moment of heightened desperation, to use our precious prayers towards the outcome of a sporting event.
I can’t pretend to fully understand God’s plan. That said, Jewish tradition teaches that God is concerned and somehow involved in everything that happens in our lives. Classical Judaism subscribes to the belief that God not only created the world, but also plays an active part in it. The Jewish scholar Maimonides broke with the famed Greek philosopher Aristotle over this very idea. Aristotle believed God created the world and that the Creator relates to humanity but only in a general sense as a species – what is referred to as “General Providence”. Maimonides on the other hand, echoing the traditional Jewish view, taught that God is concerned and relates to each and every person on the individual level – what’s called “Individual Providence”.
What’s important to remember is that God cares about people and that our relationship with Him (as well as the sum of our merits) does somehow play a part in the way everything unfolds, maybe even the outcome of the Super Bowl.
Also remember: praying your team gets a touchdown is still a conversation with God. Judaism teaches we are all meant to have a personal relationship with our Creator which we can’t do without conversing. So, if you want to talk sports with God – go for it! What matters most is that you’re talking at all. Just make sure the conversation doesn’t end when the game is over. There’s so much more to talk about.
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