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Context Makes the Man: Torah Thoughts from Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

Case Keenum has been enjoying the 2017 season more than anyone ever dreamed. Not only is he starting, but he is playing fantastic football. I do not think anyone saw this coming and as St. Louisans it is particularly hard to believe this is the same guy we had here just a few seasons ago. How is he doing it? He started as an undrafted free agent and now is leading the Vikings with an impressive 9-2 record. His salary of $2 million is low even for a backup yet his QBR second in the league. It seems that what has changed for him is his surroundings. He now benefits from superb coaching under OC Pat Shurmer, a former QB coach for Andy Reid’s Eagles and QB coach Kevin Stefanski, a talented football mind that has coached every offensive position for the Vikings. Also, the Vikings bolstered their offensive line this offseason, utilizing the space left by Adrian Peterson and others to protect Keenum. He has great receivers and a solid ground attack and has powered the Vikings through troubled times. This is such a profound lesson for life. As human beings we create limitations for ourselves based on our projected capabilities. We subconsciously set a bar for ourselves and expect only to succeed to an extent. Context can be a gamechanger. If we surround ourselves with moral people, strive to be involved with organizations and communities that are focused on G-d and making the world a better place, and keep close to those that share aspirations for growing Jewishly we can transcend those expectations. Our coaches and supporting staff can propel us way beyond anything we ever thought we could achieve. Chanuka is around the corner. The first night is on Tuesday December 12th. We commemorate and relive a period of time in which the Greek society threatened to ruin everything we held near and dear as a nation. It is a time to reflect on the potency of context and how putting ourselves among other like-minded teammates we can become better people than we ever imagined.

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From Side Lines to Center Stage: Torah Lessons from Sports

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman
After an incredible first half of the season, Deshaun Watson’s torn ACL stopped him in his tracks. Texans fans and fantasy owners that had vested interest in this young, exciting, and talented QB, must now face the uncomfortable realization that his rookie season is over. All those records he could have broken will remain intact and his success cut short. Injuries like this one happen often in the NFL and usually have devastating results. Seasons end prematurely, fans lose interest, and teams watch promising beginnings dissipate. However, in some instances, the opposite happens. Sometimes when all looks bleak, the surprise rookie, the unknown player, or the struggling journeyman find themselves in the limelight, a position they never had before, and thrive like no one could have ever imagined. Think of one of the greatest QBs of all time, the ageless Tom Brady. He was on the Patriots sidelines in the shadow of one of the greatest New England had ever seen, Drew Bledsode. After Mo Lewis of the New York Jets put a punishing hit on Bledsode, a hit that almost killed him, the Tom Brady era and the Patriots dynasty began. When Bledsode went down, the feeling in Foxborough was one of despair and then this unnamed kid got his chance and is still making the best of it. In the darkest of times there can be the greatest revelations of light. Our Rabbis teach us that before a leader dies, his successor is already born and developing. With a loss comes an opportunity for rebuilding and growth through new paths and untapped potential. As we encounter difficulties in our daily life, be it at work, home, or in our inter-personal relationships, we can view setbacks as challenges, allowing us to have new possibilities for growth and the ability to be people we have always wanted to be. It can strengthen us as Jews and members of the community and can be your calling to take the step from backstage right into the spotlight.

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Finding Your “Playoff Beard”

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

A custom has developed in many sports that as playoffs begin so does the beard. Facial hair has become an indication that a team or player is playoff bound. The originator is said to be Butch Goring of the New York Islanders in the 80’s. He may have gotten the idea from Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg. He used to stop shaving at the beginning of Wimbeldon. The 2009 Redwings did it, 2013 Red Sox (against the Cardinals), and the Ben Roethlesberger did it for Super Bowl XL. What is the significance of this strange practice? There is the idea of unity, that each member of the team puts on beards together and kind of adds that to their uniform. However, I think the more compelling explanation is that when there is a beard growing on your face and you are not accustomed to to it, the first thing you notice when you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, eat a meal, and walk outside is that new addition to your face. That serves as a constant reminder to severity and seriousness of playoffs. We all need to grow our proverbial playoff beards in our personal lives. Pick one part of Judaism, your connection to G-d, to your community, to your fellow members of the tribe and work on that focus, dedicate yourself to that cause with a drive that is playoff-like. By doing this we can make a bigger and more profound impact on our lives and our communities and help build and affect others and create a better Jewish nation and world.

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Staying Young: Torah Lessons from Baseball

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

As the World Series is coming to a close, I noticed something strange about my feelings for the loser of the ALCS. Growing up in Atlanta, I have developed a strong hatred for the pinstriped Bronx bombers. Year after year, I would find myself hopeful of another championship for my city only to have those hopes ruined by the invincible, powerful, and deep-pocketed Yankees. This feeling is shared with many baseball fans across the country. You either love the Yankees or hate them, there is no neutral feelings. This year, however, I noticed a change. I no longer felt any animosity or frustration even as they started winning games and made the playoffs. It seems that I am not alone. The youth and infectious exuberance that Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and co. brought to the table throughout the season swept many Yankee haters off their feet and opened up a new era of baseball. Gone is the professionalism and seriousness. The constant addition of established veterans is no more. There is this core of energetic, friendly, and fun-loving kids guiding and setting the tone for New York. We all go through the natural procession of life beginning full of energy, passion, and dreams and then slowly maturing as we grow more serious and responsible. Youth carries with it a tremendous amount of potential. As a group of young professionals, we need to be aware that now is our time to shine. Act when you still have the strength and energy to do so. Your decisions now will affect your future in a profound and important way. Do not wait until you are over the hill and take on something new. Reach out to your synagogue and offer a hand, be there for your community, develop and cultivate meaningful relationships with your families, friends and G-d. Be like the Yankees and take on the world with your youth and reap the benefits of this time period of our lives that is slowly ebbing away.