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The Power of Tradition: Chanuka Lessons from Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

As we wrap up the festival of Chanuka, I would like to thank everyone that joined us or wanted to join us for our party and hope to see you all soon. In honor of the last day of Chanuka I would like to share a quick thought that the legendary Bill Walsh really helped me understand. The originator of what is now known as the West Coast Offense, Walsh really created a revolution that drastically altered the course of the NFL and formed the game we follow and play. Starting with the weak-armed Virgil Carter of the Bengals, Coach Walsh devised a series of plays to embrace the low-risk short passing game that turned Carter into the most accurate passer in the NFL. From that point on, he successfully turned the least talented of QBs into the best of their respective leagues and colleges. His tenure with the 49ers included one of the greatest of them all, Joe Montana and his successor, HOFer Steve Young. The impact this one man had on the game of football is particularly noticeable when you take stock of the current Head Coaches in the NFL and college. Some of the biggest names are students, both directly and indirectly of Walsh and they include: Andy Reid, John and Jim Harbaugh, John Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, Tony Dungy, Jack Del Rio, Lovie Smith, and Mike Tomlin. This style of play developed by this one brilliant man has affected so many players and teams in the broad football world. The festival of Chanuka is different than Passover or Rosh Hashana in the sense that there is no mention of it in the Torah. The events that led to the establishment of these 8 days of celebration and thanks to  G-d for all He does in our lives, happened thousands of years after the Torah was already given to our nation at Sinai. That being said, it is a holiday that is only celebrated because of the tradition our Rabbis began following the miracle of Chanuka. As we celebrate and enjoy our holiday this year, it is crucial to reflect on the difference this tradition has on our lives. Our Rabbis have guided us and changed our relationship with G-d by introducing this time to enjoy with our families and connect to our nation and to G-d with a new level of profundity each year. We need to treasure that tradition for it is what shaped us and created the nation we are today. It is in our best interest to cherish and do whatever we can to learn more about our heritage and pass it on to the next generation in our families and communities so we can continue the great gift of Judaism we have for posterity.

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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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The Words that Sparked a Revolution: Yom Kippur Lessons in Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

Over a year ago, the starting QB for the 49ers, Colin Kapernick, protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. He created a movement that slowly began to grow and a few vocal members of the NFL joined in protest as well. However, when President Trump lashed out against those that disrespect the flag, the movement became a revolution. According to some accounts, over 1/3 of the league was involved in some sort of protest or demonstration of unity. Some teams did not come on the field at all and coaches, owners, singers, and players joined in a mass demonstration of dissatisfaction with the words of our President.
Regardless of your personal political stance, one point is clear from this developing story and that is until the President spoke his mind, there were only a few protests. Those few words are what began this movement.
Yom Kippur is fast approaching and although it is important to be aware of how powerful our actions are, there is a specific stress placed on the power of words. The first prayer and one of the climaxes of Yom Kippur is the Kol Nidrei prayer. One would expect a meaningful prayer for forgiveness but instead the introduction to the services is a declaration about the nullifying of any vows or oaths. It seems a little out of place.
The ability to creatively express your thoughts is a trait that is uniquely human. No other being can convey such complex thoughts and ideas with the vehicle of speech. Our Rabbis teach us that this is a manifestation of the G-dliness within us. When G-d created man, He gathered together some dirt and blew a small piece of Himself into Adam, the result being the capability for speech. Our job is to utilize that G-dliness to better ourselves and better the world around us. We can chose to use our unique characteristics to hurt people and bring them down, to humiliate and slander, to curse and speak inappropriately, or we can channel this amazing tool to capitalize on relationships, strengthen our bonds with our families and communities, inspire others and express our appreciation for others.
That is why Yom Kippur starts off with a prayer about oaths and vows because it teaches us the energy we can create if we use our gift of speech properly.

A Powerful Leader: Torah Lessons in Fantasy Football

 

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

Week one of the NFL season brought devastating news to at least one member of every fantasy league in the nation and also to the Arizona Cardinals. David Johnson, the third year back and fantasy league superstar, dislocated his wrist on a 24-yard catch against the Lions in the third quarter and had surgery to repair it. He was placed in IR and cannot return until week 8, earliest. Fantasy league owners that picked Johnson and assumed they had the RB position locked down now are scrambling to attempt to fill his void. The Cardinals are also in really bad shape and barely eked out a win against the “Luck”less Colts in OT, relying heavily on the aging Carson Palmer.
There is a powerful lesson in this story line. The effect of a leader is obvious and as we approach the holy day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, a day that G-d takes stock of the world He runs, we should work at internalizing this message. If it is clear that you are crucial to those around you and they count on you to be better, more productive people, than G-d will grant you health and comfort to keep you going strong. If you can ensure that in your family, community, or synagogue that you are a key player to assisting those around you to be effective in their maximizing their potential and helping them connect to G-d, then that itself is reason for another season in the league of life.
May we all merit a healthy, happy, and successful year together!

Breaking Your Fighting Pattern: Torah Lessons in Boxing

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

On August 26th, just a few weeks ago, Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr finally squared off for a much anticipated fight. Mayweather, one of the best boxers to ever play the game, squaring off against an amateur boxer in his first-ever professional match. How did rookie McGregor survive for 10 rounds in the ring? As a boxer, or any other athlete for that manner, perfects his or her trade, they recognize even the the slightest of their opponents movements as indications as to what will be coming their way. This is due to the repetitious nature of the training and playing for so many years. Since McGregor was not a real boxer, his unorthodox approach and style and the fact that he was an outsider to boxing, was actually an advantage for him until Mayweather figured him out. As we approach the High Holidays, it is a great time to to rethink interactions with our friends, families and God. There is a tendency that we all have to remain in our comfort zone, continuing what we have always been doing for many years. Sometimes we create healthy habits but our relationships need serious tinkering and we are unaware. This is a result of a long lifetime of building and developing our character. If we can take a step back, and see ourselves almost as an outsider to our own lives, we can challenge the patterns we have formed for ourselves, and strive to be better spouses, friends, children, parents, community members and members of the Jewish nation.