Lone soldiers at the Superbowl party
Lone soldiers at the Superbowl partyCourtesy

Every year, the world gears up for the Superbowl, and even people who don’t follow football take an interest. Somehow, the NFL has captured the imagination of the masses; the show, the glitz, the contest, and the party combine to make it an entertaining evening.

The fans see the final product. They see the best players in the NFL pit their talents against each other. They see them sprinting at impossible speeds and pivoting at impossible angles, hurling and hurtling, chasing and tackling, spinning and weaving, all at the highest level.

Let’s reflect on what these athletes had to do to get to this day. The grueling years of practice and competition. The painful injuries and draining endurance that enabled them to stand while lesser players pulled back and fell down. It is not a march of glory; it is a long, dirty slog. Every game of the long season is a bare-knuckle battle. Every play, every maneuver, is meticulously practiced again and again. Coaches insult, challenge, prod, push, and poke well beyond normal tolerance.

These great stars are treated like minimum-salaried employees. Yes, they are millionaires many times over, but if they break the rules, they are out. If they fail on the field, they suffer humiliation. That is the grind they have to endure to have their moment of glory under the sparkling stars.

The Grind of Life
There is no gain without pain. If you want to enjoy a wonderful repast with family and friends, you have to invest weeks, if not months, into planning, shopping, and cooking. At the table, you sit like a princess, but does anyone know how hard you worked to get there? How many fingers you cut while chopping in the kitchen? How many times were you frustrated when a dish burned or didn’t turn out right?

Who was there when your children scampered out of the kitchen, leaving you to finish up alone? Who held your hand and gave you strength, when you realized at the last minute that your spouse bought the wrong drinks, and you ran out at the last minute to get the last bottles in the supermarket?

No one was there for you. You had to grind it out yourself. But because you put in all that effort, you can sit at the head of the table this night and smile at your wonderful guests. Your family is loving it, and you are at your best. You are in high spirits, but no one knows the grind you endured to get there.

The Grind of Judaism
Sometimes, you go to services at your synagogue, and you open your book and stare. The words swim before your eyes. You can read them, you can speak them, but they don’t speak to you. Your heart is closed, and you are desperate. You want to connect, but your heart won’t open.

You sneak a peek down the aisle and see someone swaying in rapture and concentration. Eyes closed and hands in motion, he is swept up in the throes of heartfelt emotion. You want to accompany him on his journey, but you feel like he walked through a door that is closed to you.

You think to yourself, my, how fortunate is this man? I wish I were like him. I wish it were as easy for me as it is for him. I wish I could close my eyes and feel G-d standing before me. I wish I could talk to G-d as naturally as he does.

But you don’t know the grind that this person walked through. Prayer on Shabbat morning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It follows a week of waking up early and praying. He is just as tired as everyone else. He is just as busy as everyone else. He doesn’t have time to pray, yet he wakes up every morning and forces himself to go to the synagogue. He talks to G-d every day until the prayer book talks to him.

When he goes to work, he packs a kosher lunch. There are wonderful vegetarian and seafood restaurants near his office. He is tempted to make excuses and attend these non-Kosher establishments for lunch. It's just a salad, it's just fish. G-d loves me. He surely understands. But he doesn’t do that. He slogs it out. He makes sacrifices for G-d, and that makes G-d meaningful to him.

Surely, you know that there are many things you have that he does not. He looks at you, and he, too, is tempted to be jealous. He, too, is prone to greed, lust, avarice, envy, and resentment. But he doesn’t let himself go down that path. Every time such thoughts come to him, he uses both hands to heave them away. It isn’t easy because those thoughts return again and again. But he continues to push. He works hard at it. It is a long grind, but he slugs it out.

Every time he logs into his online banking, his heart drops as he considers his balance. He has a large family to feed and doesn’t know where tomorrow’s bread will come from. But despite his misgivings, he shoves these thoughts from his mind and places his trust in G-d. Every day that he makes it home alive, every time he gets through a day, he is keenly aware that G-d brought him home. G-d got him through.

His relationship with G-d is active. It is constant. It is real. Not because it comes easily to him but because he works his way through the slog. It is his grind, and he grinds it out. Then he comes to the synagogue on Shabbat morning and his heart is full. He is keenly aware that G-d carried him. He is filled with gratitude. He is humbled, awed, and thrilled all at the same time.

His heart is open, his mind is fixed, his eyes are closed, his cheeks are wet, his soul is soaring, his lips are singing, his arms are dancing, and his consciousness is filled to the brim. The feelings race through his body; he can’t sit still. His hands cajole, his fingers beckon, his feet drum as his heart beats.

You are sitting there wondering how you might get a piece of his action. And the answer is rather obvious. You can get in on his action. He doesn’t have an exclusive. But you have to put in the effort. If you pay the price, you can buy it too. Are you ready to make the trek?

Your world is filled with people who did it. The Superbowl heroes you watched the other day did it. Your wife, who presided over the family repast, did it. The man down the aisle from you that you envy as we speak did it, too. If they could do it, you are no different; you can do it too. So, what are you waiting for?

Everyone A Levite
This week we will read in the Torah about Aaron and his sons. We will read about the days of practice and the many steps they took to prepare themselves for their glorious day. The vestments they spun, wove, and donned. The offerings they brought and the sacrifices they made. The commitments and resolutions.

On the inaugural day of the Tabernacle, they took their place of glory at the altar. They were at the helm, in leadership positions. But what did it take to get there? Can you do what they did? Can you be just like them? G-d thinks you can. Here is what He wrote in His Torah:

“Not only the tribe of Levi, but anyone who is an inhabitant of this world whose spirit generously moves him, and whose mind guides him to set himself aside and stand before G-d, to serve and know Him. If he behaves properly as G-d made him and rejects the yoke of the many concerns that worry others, he is sanctified as holy of holies. G-d will be His portion and heritage forever. G-d will provide for his needs in this world as He provides for the priests and the Levites.”

That is what it takes to reach the other side: If G-d believes in you, you can, too.