Monthly Archives: August 2011
Parshat Shoftim (meaning “Judges”) deals with many legal scenarios- the role of the prophets, the clergy, and royalty to name a few. We are also introduced to the notion of “cities of refuge.” Above all, the torah teaches the importance to help those who are most vulnerable against those who are most powerful. As we are to pursue justice, we learn that law knows no favorites.
One concept that might appear harsh is that of multiple witnesses to a crime. An Israelite could be found guilty of an offense only on the testimony of two or more witnesses. On one hand, this law doesn’t show the law protecting those most vulnerable. I interpret it differently. The onus is on us as law abiding citizens to always keep our eyes peeled. We have the responsibility to protect each other and not to judge without being witnesses ourselves.
As we look to the Jaguars opening their season in a few weeks, I hope we will all find the importance of “bearing witness” by attending as many games as we can. Blackouts on television imply that not only are we not attending the games, but that we can’t bear witness on television as well. We have the responsibility to protect our vulnerable yet precious asset- the Jaguars. By being present, by bearing witness, we can also properly judge their performance on the field- to better serve the team and our community.
This week’s torah portion Re’eh, states the following: “If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and provide him that which is sufficient for all he is lacking.”
Most interpretations of these two verses focus on the needs to give monetary assistance to those who don’t have enough (focusing on the “needy person” ). It can easily be interpreted to mean that we must come forward to aid those who are in any kind of need- financial, emotional, spiritual. How do we create a culture where we volunteer, no strings attached, to help those who are in need? Maybe its a task as simple as opening a door or as complicated as going to battle.
With all of the great mascot names in college sports (horned frogs, artichokes, banana slugs, fighting camels to name a few), one mascot, above the lions, bears, and tigers, shows this need to step up to the plate. No matter the score, come out to play and play hard. I’m talking about the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State,” a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee.
Amidst the scandals that have marred the men’s basketball and football programs, the Lady Vols basketball team, and its longtime coach Pat Summitt, have shown that you can create a powerhouse program without breaking the rules. A charismatic, insightful and caring coach is all a program needs to recruit the best and brightest athletes. The Lady Vols are a blessing to the University of Tennessee. It was difficult, then, to hear Pat Summitt deliver the news yesterday that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Her response? “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’’ll make sure of that.” Coach Summitt is a fighter and I’m confident she will stand up and fight; she will thrive and overcome any obstacle in the foreseeable future. But it’s in these moments that we often ask- why her? A brilliant basketball mind- it’s as if God is playing some cruel joke. In a somewhat unrelated story, Coach Dean Smith of UNC has also struggled with memory loss and other health issues.
The opening line of this week’s parsha states “See this day before you a blessing and a curse.” On the surface, the parsha seems to contend that if you follow God’s ways, you are blessed; if you don’t follow, you are cursed.
First off, the word bracha, often translated as blessing, can also mean “bounty” or “plenty.” When faced with an adversity, a disease in this case, we have a choice- to wake up each morning and think of this disease as a curse- to shut down, to stay down when we’ve been pushed over. Or, we can consider looking at our lives- seeing the blessings and the bountiful sources of love and support around us. As Coach Summitt fights this battle, there will be days that she wants to curse out to the world. Pain, and more significantly public pain, is hard to handle at any moment. Summitt always has the summit on her mind- to remain at that championship level, to teach young basketball players the fundamentals of basketball and of life. Summitt stated “If anything, it’s going to inspire me more to help them.” May we all take a moment to look out at our lives- to count the bountiful riches of strong friendships and families, to see every day as a blessing.
This week marks the beginning of a new book- the final one in fact, of the five books of Moses. It’s name “Dvarim” is taken from the first phrase uttered in the book: Eilu Hadvarim- These are the words or “things”. Moses recaps a long journey with his family throughout the dessert land as he begins to embark on his farewell tour. Moses never did get to the Promised Land. He died at the mountain top, viewing his dreams from afar. It’s tough for any individual to be told, “hey! You did a great job doing all the work, but we’re going with the young gun to lead us to the promised land!” How does Moses respond? Can he be a mentor to Joshua?
The same questions arise from this past week’s barrage of free agent signings and trades in the NFL. Three teams stick out as undergoing major facelifts at the quarterback position- the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars. While the Jaguars have been able to ponder the dynamics of their quarterback duo over the past few months (one can contemplate even during the lockout), the Vikings and Titans signed veteran quarterbacks this week- Donovan Mcnabb in Minnesota, Matt Hasselback in Tennessee. Both men have started Superbowls, but both are being asked to be mentors to Christian Ponder and Jake Locker. This is always a dicey predicament- what happens when the veteran charged with the task of leading a squad for one or two years happens to lead them to the promised land (see Kurt Warner)? Do you give up on the young talent? These men are asked to play for mediocre teams without line protection when, ironically, their speed has left them long ago.
Once in awhile, we encounter a scenario like the one in Green Bay- a veteran qb (Brett Favre) who held back another future star (Aaron Rodgers) from leading his team to the promised land. It’s important to recognize the power and wisdom of “upper management” – to realize that leading an NFL franchise is a gift, a privilege. Hopefully, teams like Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Tennessee will find their veteran qbs to be strong role models, knowing that that when the time comes to hand over the team, they will do so gracefully and graciously.