SUPER BOWLS

I have no idea how many rabbis devoted their sermons last week to the Super Bowl. Nor do I care. For me, and hopefully, for all Jews, the Super Bowl has nothing to do with 100 million Americans glued to the television set, nor does it involve companies prepared to shell out 5 million dollars for a 30-second commercial being aired at the same time when many viewers in all likelihood, have momentarily absented themselves from the television set, because they are heading to another room of the house, either to satiate their needs or to tend to their needs.

Long before the first Super Bowl took place long on January 15, 1967, there were three other Super Bowls that were in no way connected to Football. While I am not able to provide the exact date, I can tell you what took place at the first of these three Super Bowls: There were two brothers in that first Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, those two brothers were fraternal twins. Even though neither brother had ever seen a football before, that first Super Bowl had all the makings of a competition. It centered itself around a bowl of lentil stew. One brother had prepared the stew and was just about to pour it in a bowl when the other brother walked into the kitchen totally famished. He had spent the entire day in the field hunting.  “Fork over some of those vittles”, demanded the hunter. “I’m starving.” “Be happy to,” answered the other brother. “But it will cost you your birthright.” Without the least bit of hesitation and totally without a word of remonstration, the hunter went and exchanged his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Unlike the Super Bowl of today, there were no winners. That first Super Bowl produced only losers. In addition to giving up his birthright, the hunter lost his self-respect; in addition to acquiring a birthright, the other brother lost his integrity.

The world would have to wait a few centuries until the second Super Bowl. Here too, I am not able to provide the exact date, but in addition to telling you what took place, I can also tell you where it took place. The second Super Bowl did not involve lentil stew or any other food. The second Super Bowl involved sparkling jewels and glowing coals. It took place at a royal palace in Egypt. In that second Super Bowl, there were also only two players: The Pharaoh himself and his adopted toddler son whom we know as Moses. It turns out, however, that the Pharaoh was no match for the toddler. As paranoid as the day is long, the Pharaoh feared that the day would come when he would meet his downfall at the hands of the toddler. After all, the toddler had just raised his little arms and removed the crown from Pharaoh’s head and placed it on his own head. Surely, a sign and portent were to be found in what had just occurred. At the suggestion of one of Pharaoh’s three advisors present, who was adamant in rescuing the toddler from certain death, a test was hastily arranged and two bowls – one filled with sparkling jewels and the other filled with glowing coals – were set before the toddler. That second Super Bowl produced two winners, one immediate and the other ultimate. True, Pharaoh walked away with a big smile and put his paranoia on hold, but it was the tongue torched toddler who would one day bring down Pharaoh and his country, as he led his people from slavery to freedom.

The third Super Bowl took place in this country during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Benny Shapiro entered a non-descript Drug Store on Delancey Street on New York’s Lower East Side, walked up to the soda fountain at the back of the pharmacy, and climbed up onto a stool. He caught the attention of the waitress and asked: “How much is a sundae?”  “Thirty-cents,” answered the waitress. Benny reached into his pocket and began to count the coins. The waitress was impatient. There were other customers to be served. Benny looked up at the waitress. “How much is a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream?” asked Benny. “Twenty cents,” answered the waitress with more than a hint of irritation in her voice. Again, Benny counted the coins. Finally, Benny said: “I’ll have a bowl of plain ice-cream.” Benny put a dime and two nickels on the table. The waitress took the money, brought the bowl of ice cream and walked away. Fifteen minutes later, the waitress returned. The bowl was empty. Benny was gone. The waitress picked up the empty bowl and began to cry. There, next to the wet spot on the counter where the bowl had been, was a nickel and five pennies. Benny did have enough money for a sundae all along, but he ordered a bowl of plain ice cream instead so that he could leave the waitress a tip. Unlike, the previous two Super Bowls, both the waitress and Benny were winners – the waitress for being the recipient of the thoughtfulness of a ten-year-old boy, and Benny for being such a mentsch.

Yasher Koach to the Kansas City Chiefs, the winners of this year’s Super Bowl. When all is said and done, however, the three Super Bowls of this article, and not any of the previous 53 televised Super Bowls are the ones worth remembering.

THE ORIGINAL ROCKY MOUNTAIN

There is a not so well-known midrash that tells us when Moses was preparing to ascend Mount Sinai to receive the two stone tablets upon which were engraved the Ten Commandments, various pathways leading to the summit began to quarrel with one another. Each pathway vied for the honor of providing Moses a conduit up the mountain; each pathway offered features that the other pathways could not. One touted being the most direct, while another claimed it was the smoothest path to take. Yet a third, claimed that it offered the least steep climb.

There was the one pathway, however, that did not join in the fray. It felt that it had nothing to offer Moses, in that along the entire way up the mountain, it was strewn with rocks. Predictably, it was the rocky path rather than the other better suited paths that was chosen by Moses. Had Moses known that in time to come there would arise a language called English, his choice of pathways leading up the mountain would have been chosen with even more alacrity.

It would have been phenomenal had Moses been able to say that his climb up Mt. Sinai would be the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Moses’ experience with the Children of Israel, however, told him otherwise. Even though the odyssey from Egypt, along with liberation from enslavement, was barely in its seventh week Moses already understood only too well the attitude and temperament of the Children of Israel. To label those who followed Moses out of Egypt as ingrates would not even begin to do justice to the masses, who were incapable of returning gratitude and loyalty for a new lease on life. Even if Moses was not the greatest prophet in Israel, as we find in the song of praise “Yigdal,” he was nevertheless right on target for following a rocky path all the up Mt. Sinai. For Moses instinctively knew that the relationship HaShem would have to endure over time with His chosen people would be a rocky one.

It’s been close to half a century since the term “Rocky Mountain High” was first introduced to American culture. Truth be told, given Moses’ choice of pathways,  the first Rocky Mountain high was experienced over three millennia earlier: “And they (the Children of Israel) encamped there, opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). What made the scenario all the more breathtaking was that this was the first, and unfortunately perhaps the last time as well, that the Children of Israel would be united in commitment and spirit. Given that as a people the Children of Israel have historically been known for their acrimony, rather than their harmony, it is safe to say that both HaShem and Moses, His servant, experienced a “Rocky Mountain High,” as they looked down at the masses at the foot of the mountain.

George and Ira Gershwin May have been on to something, despite employing the wrong possessive pronoun, in their joint effort classic. (George composed the music and Ira wrote the lyrics  to “Our Love is Here to Stay,” as a tribute to his brother who had just died). The Rockies have yet to tumble, neither has Mount Sinai with its rocky pathway to the top. But it is “My love,” says HaShem, “that is here to stay.” And that love has been here to stay from the time Moses ascended that rocky pathway leading to the top until this very moment.

Mount Sinai has been known by a number of names over the years:  Har HaElokim,  Har Bashan,  Har Givnunim and Har Horev. Perhaps there is room for yet another name for this earth-shaking, historic mountain. Taking into account HaShem’s immutable love for us, bearing in mind the “Rocky Mountain High” that HaShem and Moses experienced seeing a united people, and considering the rocky relationship that has existed since Moses first received the Torah, perhaps  Mount Sinai that has every right to call itself the original Rocky Mountain.

CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

It’s carob time again! Come Tu B’Shvat, congregants, Hebrew School students and those who attend Jewish Day Schools prepare themselves perennially to hear all about their “raisin” d’etre.

Perhaps it’s time to branch out, and leave the almonds, figs, and dates alone and look to the trees for a different source of nourishment. Perhaps its time for the trees to whet our appetite for everyday living.

It was the French philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil who taught us: “Whoever is uprooted himself, uproots others; whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” Have you ever wondered why with but one exception throughout our  history, we Jews do not seek to persuade non-Jews to see the light and embrace Judaism? Can it be that that our religious leaders have been so well rooted in the religion they represent, that it never occurs to them to try to get those of a different faith to see the light? Conversely, have you ever wondered why over the ages, Church leadership, particularly in Europe, went to such great lengths to get Jews to abandon and forsake Old Israel and embrace Christianity? Were they really that concerned in saving Jewish souls or perhaps subconsciously, they themselves were anything but firmly rooted in their own faith?

In my talk this past Shabbat, I spoke about how I “played hooky” the previous Monday morning  and traveled to Hunt County with Sue Kretchman. Our mission was to visit a nonagenarian who, as a teenager in Germany, was part of the Kinder Transport. Truth be told, my ego got the better part of me, as we set out. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t repress feelings of self-righteousness. After all, I reasoned, how many other Dallas rabbis would go out on a limb and  visit someone they had never met, who had no connection whatsoever to their synagogue? On the way back from a most delightful, eye-opening, unforgettable visit,  I realized that it was not I who went out on a limb, but the countless, remarkable, selfless strangers first in Holland and then in England who went out on a limb for Jewish children escaping Nazis. These strangers were part of a godly group who dared to refuse to succumb to the Machiavellian machinations  of the Third Reich. Amidst the many trees at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, where the Six Million are immortalized, there is the Avenue of the Righteous, a walkway where tribute and honor are bestowed upon those who saved Jewish lives. Given the many trees, I cannot help but feel that that section of Yad Vashem ought to be referred to as “Our undying gratitude to those who went out on a limb.”

If there was one thing in common shared by our prophets in the Tana’ch, it was their inability to see the greater picture. Moshe (yes, Moses is considered a prophet) saw a burning bush. Amos HaNavi or the prophet Amos saw a plumb line. Yirmiyahu HaNavi or the prophet Jeremiah saw the staff of an almond tree. None of them could see the mission that they were about to be sent on. Being able to see the bigger picture is a rare gift among humans. All too often, one small item catches the human eye, blinding that person to the bigger picture.  Adam and Eve were so focused  on the one tree that was off limits to them, that they lost sight of the lush forest full of trees bearing luscious fruits that were theirs for the taking.

As one who spends hundreds of dollars each year planting trees in Israel, I have every reason to believe that in addition to trees and fruit, the message of Tu B’Shvat ought to go far deeper. Aside from indulging in figs and prunes as well as all other fruit associated with Israel, in addition to planting trees in Israel, I ask that you see Tu B’Shvat as a harbinger of codes to live by. As we are asked to focus on trees, I ask that you bear in mind that those who are firmly rooted will not uproot others and that those who are uprooted will try to uproot others. I ask that you recall how indebted we ought to be to those who went out on limb for us. Above all, I ask that you never forget the price that is paid, when one can’t see the forest for the trees.

A meaningful Tu B’Shvat to all!